VT Environment Agency Fined for Polluting

Monday, November 14, 2011 @ 08:11 PM gHale

Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation violated its own environmental laws by improperly storing and disposing of hazardous wastes at its environmental chemistry laboratory.

The agency will pay an $80,000 penalty and $30,000 toward an environmental waste fund under an agreement unveiled by the state Attorney General’s Office. The state also agreed to come up with a plan to better manage the lab’s hazardous materials. The agreement is subject to court approval, Assistant Attorney General Robert McDougall said.

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The department turned itself in to the Attorney General’s Office, McDougall said, reporting improper handling of hazardous wastes. Inspections in early January confirmed the errors, he said.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears said the department didn’t want to give itself favorable treatment by handling the issue internally, instead seeking “an arm’s length review.”

The lab handles a variety of tests to measure pollutants in air, water and soil, using chemicals in the process that qualify as hazardous waste, Mears said. Those chemicals can be corrosive, react with other materials or be toxic.

The chemicals routinely went down drains and in regular trash without any kind of identification, according to the consent order between the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Attorney General’s Office. Hazardous waste also stored without proper labeling, the order states, and no one was doing daily inspections.

One list of hazardous waste inventory included waste that shipped away in 2006, the order said. Other wastes ended up stored longer than permitted, and officials did not properly store or label probes and thermometers containing mercury, posing the risk of releasing mercury into the environment, according to the order.

“There’s no question in my mind, this should not have happened,” Mears said. McDougall said the lab began correcting the practices immediately.

He said the state Department of Human Resources is conducting an investigation to determine what caused the lapses to happen — whether it was a lack of staff, poor management or something else, Mears said.

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