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Environmental Enforcement Roundup: Asarco Settlement; School Bus Fines; Metal Processor Fined; EPA to Remove Chemicals

Environmental Leader’s daily roundup of key environmental enforcement news

Asarco Settle Blue Ledge Claims

The U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has lodged a proposed consent decree (pdf) with Asarco LLC at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas.

The Settlement Agreement resolves late claims made by the EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Forest Service in the Asarco bankruptcy.

Asarco LLC is a mining, smelting, and refining company based in Tucson, Arizona that  primarily mines and processes copper. The company, a subsidiary of Grupo México, is currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. ASARCO planned to emerge from bankruptcy in 2008, but has opposed calls for it to totally liquidate its mining and industrial assets.

The proposed consent decree relates to Asarco’s Blue Ledge Mine Site located in Siskiyou County, California, which lies three miles south of the Oregon border.

The Blue Ledge Mine Site is one of Asarco’s 20 Superfund sites throughout the U.S.  Asarco agreed to pay $2,400,000 to the Department of Justice to resolve the late claims.

The Department of Justice will solicit public comments for a period of fifteen (15) days before the settlement is submitted to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for approval.

School Bus Company Fined $40,000 by MassDEP

An inspection of school buses for excessive idling by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has resulted in a $40,000 penalty to First Student Inc. after numerous violations were observed by state inspectors.

First Student reached an agreement with MassDEP to take additional steps to better train drivers, post no-idling signs and install sensors in at least 75 of the buses allowing the company to monitor the activity of the engine from a remote location.

“Excessive idling by school buses puts the passengers – many of them under the age of 12 – at risk to exposure from harmful pollutants from diesel emissions,” MassDEP Commissioner Laurie Burt said in a prepared statement. “Children are among the most vulnerable populations for respiratory problems and we simply won’t accept this kind of pattern of lackadaisical behavior by drivers and indifference from any school bus company.”

First Student is one of the largest school bus operators in the state. The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) reports that approximately 9,000 school buses are registered in state and that First Student owns or operates 2,194 of the state’s school buses and supervises the drivers.

MassDEP conducted targeted unannounced inspections at public schools across the state in the fall of 2008 and spring of 2009, and found numerous incidents of excessive idling in Springfield, Brockton, South Boston, Dorchester, Roxbury and Roslindale.

First Student, which is based in Cincinnati, has agreed to the penalty and to take the following steps:

  • Train all employees that operate, maintain and supervise operation of buses;
  • Post no-idling signs at all First Student locations;
  • Install so-called FOCUS units (First On-board Component Utilization System) with GPS on at least 75 buses. These units will allow First Student to monitor bus idling, while MassDEP will also receive reports from the FOCUS units;
  • Conduct ongoing walking inspections by First Student managers of their parking lots to monitor bus operations; and,
  • Pay a $40,000 penalty and, if further violations occur, pay $2,000 per violation in stipulated penalties.

Prior to this enforcement order, in January 2004, MassDEP issued a notice of noncompliance to First Student for excessive idling in a previous enforcement sweep. In April 2005, MassDEP entered into a consent order with First Student for excessive idling and violations related to the cleanup of oil and hazardous materials.

Metal Processor Settles DTSC Claims

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and Heraeus Metal Processing, Inc. have entered into a consent order (pdf) resolving claims that it stored hazardous waste in excess of its storage capacity.

Heraeus Metal Processing generates, handles, treats and stores hazardous waste at its Santa Fe Springs, Calif. processing site.  The company’s primary business is to recycle precious metals, operating under a Standardized Hazardous Waste Permit.

A routine DTSC inspection in June 2009 found that Heraeus stored hazardous waste at its Hazardous Waste Storage Area-S1 in excess of its storage capacity.  DTSC’s complaint alleged that the company “failed to minimize the possibility of unplanned sudden or non-sudden release of hazardous waste or hazardous waste constituents which could threaten the human health and the environment.”

Heraeus Metal Processing agreed to only store hazardous waste within its storage capacity, and maintain adequate aisle space at the facility.  The company also agreed to store containers such that “said containers are securely confined and/or restrained using a chain or bar on the third shelf of each pallet until such time as the special conditions in its approved hazardous waste facility permit become effective.”

Heraeus Metal Processing agreed to pay a fine of $12,000 to DTSC to resolve each of the department’s claims.


EPA to Remove Chemicals From Northern Michigan Site

Federal inspectors have been granted approval to remove drums of hazardous chemicals and other toxic substances near Rogers City in northern Michigan’s Presque Isle County, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The substances were discovered 18 months ago, but the government says it has been unable to reach an agreement with the property owners.

A federal judge this week granted a request by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enter the Klee Road property.

Chemicals such as hydrochloric acid, nitric acid and sulfuric acid were found in May 2009 during an unrelated investigation by postal authorities. The EPA says the owners were using chemicals to extract gold from jewelry.

The property has three buildings and is 60 miles southeast of the Mackinac Bridge.

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