Baylor fined for EPA violations

Photo credit: Lariat File Photo

By Bailey Brammer | Staff Writer

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made settlements with three Texas universities in regards to hazardous waste violations, according to an EPA News Release on Monday. Baylor University has been charged $11,330 as a civil penalty.

“A university is a complex operation, like a city, and there are a number of areas where we have to pay specific attention,” said Lori Fogleman, assistant vice president for media relations and crisis communications. “Environmental health and safety is one of those areas for which we have specific processes and procedures in place to make sure we focus on operating safely in these areas but also that we comply fully with state and federal regulations.”

Baylor, along with Texas A&M University and Texas Christian University, was found to have hazardous waste violations after the EPA analyzed the records that universities are required to keep under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), according to the EPA.

“While Baylor did not agree with certain allegations made by the EPA, compliance staff did work cooperatively to modify procedures that further ensure Baylor is operating in full compliance with the RCRA. As noted by the EPA, its allegations focused on data submittal and record-keeping; this did not involve any improper disposal of hazardous waste,” a statement from Baylor University said.

According to the EPA, facilities that produce and dispose of hazardous waste are classified as either small- or large-quantity generators under the RCRA. Dr. James Karban, director of environmental health and safety at Baylor, said a facility is a large-quantity generator if they produce more more than 1,000 kilograms or 2 pounds of hazardous material every month.

“[Hazardous waste] is anything that’s hazardous to someone’s health,” Karban said. “This ranges from fluorescent lights with mercury in them to gasoline to diesel fluid to a lot of the chemicals we have. They can be carcinogenic, ignitable, corrosive … The EPA has definite definitions of what is considered hazardous, and we are under the direction of the EPA for our hazardous waste disposal.”

From 2011-14, Baylor was identified as a small-quantity generator, but in certain instances, it produced more hazardous materials than the allotted amount, according to the EPA.

Fogleman said an example of this could be an episodic event, such as when a professor moves from an old lab to a new lab, and the waste from the old lab must be disposed of properly.

“This is a one-time occurrence and not an ongoing, large-quantity disposal situation,” Fogleman said. “It doesn’t change a university’s status because it is a one-time occurrence, but it looks like you’re a large-quantity producer. It’s something that occurs infrequently, but we are modifying our procedures to further ensure we are compliant with the RCRA.”

Since the EPA examined Baylor’s records, the university has been listed as a large-quantity generator rather than a small-quantity generator, according to the EPA.

“We were on the borderline for a long time, and we tried very hard to minimize our waste,” Karban said. “If you go 1 pound over the regulation, you’re in violation, and that’s why we accurately weigh all of our waste that goes out. We had some big researchers come in, and our waste output increased dramatically because their research was intensive.”

As a research institute, Baylor works very closely with research teams in teaching laboratories and in all science classes, Karban said. Students are expected to utilize Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when handling any chemicals, and these practices include wearing gloves, protective eyewear and lab coats, and exposing no bare skin.

Part of the settlement with the EPA included Baylor purchasing and donating equipment to the Waco Fire Department that will assist in identifying explosives, narcotics and toxic chemicals.

“We work very closely with our first responders, and we asked what they needed,” Fogleman said. “We are glad we can provide them with equipment that will enhance their ability to respond, for example, to a hazardous chemical spill, not only at Baylor, but in our city.”