OSU fined by EPA

OSU fined by EPA

Elliott Nelson News Contributor

Oregon State University agreed to pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) $275,000 for hazardous materials violations found during a routine inspection in 2013, according to Steve Clark, OSU Vice President of University Relations and Marketing.

“(OSU was fined) for the failure to properly analyze and manage hazardous waste in their laboratories and in their hazardous waste accumulation building,” said Kevin Schanilec, who is an EPA employee. “(The waste) was in approximately 1,900 separate containers—mostly laboratory waste.”

OSU officials said that the overall amount of waste was not very big, and that the fine was not something that they foresaw.

“This was not something we really expected,” said Clay Simmons, OSU Chief Compliance Officer, about the EPA violations.

“On par, it’s a rather small amount (of waste),” Clark said. “Any matter such as this is really significant, but the concerns brought by the EPA dealt with about one percent of the material that we handle at the university in a year.”

However, Clark said that doesn’t mean the university is taking this situation lightly.

“This was a serious matter, but it dealt with labeling of materials, it dealt with the dating of those materials, and it dealt with their storage, and it did not deal with the university disposing matters or materials in an improper way,” Clark said.

According to Schanilec, it is also important to realize that whoever dealt with these hazardous waste materials didn’t handle them properly.

In response to the EPA violations and a few months after being fined in 2013, OSU began adding environmental health and safety staff to handle and dispose of hazardous materials more closely.

By the end of 2014, OSU began to train and educate other personnel about dealing with hazardous materials. OSU also established the university chief compliance officer position as well as an executive compliance committee to have oversight from the highest level at OSU, Clark said.

According to Simmons, OSU’s compliance office handles issues such as laboratory safety, athletics compliance and Title IX compliance issues. Any compliance issues placed on the university by law or in relation to policy are within the parameters of what they work on, Simmons said.

Simmons is working on building a program at OSU that reasonably assures the federal government that OSU is taking steps to comply with all of their regulations.

“These assessment and reporting systems give us the confidence that we are following the procedures required by the EPA,” Clark said. “It’s a constant process of education, assessment, training and proper procedures.”

In the laboratories, the hazardous materials were something that OSU personnel would walk by potentially everyday, Schanilec said.

“The main buildings (the hazardous materials were found in) were Weniger Hall and Gilbert Hall,” said Schanilec.

According to Clark, there were no injuries to OSU faculty, students, or staff due to the hazardous waste violations.

“I have heard of fines like this at other universities,” Simmons said. “Usually the EPA or (Department of Environmental Quality) will come in and do an inspection, and they’ll find a couple of minor issues. It could be anything from unlabeled chemical storage containers to leaving sharps out.”

The $275,000 OSU agreed to pay in fines on March 14 of this year to the federal government comes from the general fund budget of the university, according Clark.

According to Simmons, OSU student, faculty and staff safety is of the utmost importance to the university.

“If it concerns the safety of (OSU) students, faculty and staff, then that’s something that’s very important to the university,” Simmons said.

[email protected]