Brown University Confronts EPA Suit
Brown University may be fined $500,000 for violations of federal environmental statutes, according to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report released last week.
In the report, the EPA alleges that Brown improperly handled and stored hazardous waste coming from university laboratories and waste storage facilities.
Brown--which was responsible for a 1996 oil spill which leaked 60 gallons of fuel into the Narragansett Bay--was also cited for failing to develop plans to prevent future oil spills.
The EPA report--a follow-up to the agency's May 1999 inspection at Brown--orders Brown to comply immediately with environmental regulations. The inspection was part of an EPA initiative to increase monitoring efforts at New England colleges.
In response to the report, interim Brown President Sheila Blumstein issued a statement that the university "is fully committed to protecting the environment and maintaining a safe and healthy campus and workplace."
"None of the charges outlined in the EPA's report posed an immediate or long-term threat to anyone's health or safety," she said.
Freid said she believes that the EPA's strict scrutiny of universities has been awkward because the laws are "really designed with big polluters in mind."
"It's kind of like putting a square peg in a round hole," she said.
Laura Freid, executive vice president of public relations at Brown, said that the university will negotiate the amount of the fine this month--and that when those talks are over, the fine will likely be less than the proposed $500,000.
"They were wanting to send a strong message to higher education," said Brown spokesperson Mark M. Nickel.
In a press release, the agency praised Brown's response to the charges.
"We were disappointed by the number of violations we found at Brown, but we're also very encouraged by their responsiveness in addressing the problems and willingness to explore long-term solutions to ensure that these violations don't re-occur," said Mindy S. Lubber, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office.
After the May 1999 inspection, Brown's Office of Risk Management took several steps to address environmental concerns on campus.
It began conducting training sessions for more than 1,000 faculty, students and staff. The sessions were aimed at reviewing the EPA's findings and ensuring that participants knew about departmental hazardous waste policies.
The risk management staff also decided to assess the campus areas that the EPA inspected, including research laboratories, darkrooms, art studios and hazardous waste storage sites.
But some Brown students who are heavily involved with campus environmental groups defend the EPA's action.
"I think it's terrific that the EPA has cracked down," senior Jeffrey A. Klein said. "By and large, people are saying that the fine is a shame, but that it's also a shame that hazardous wastes are being dumped."
Junior Anne E. Perring said the university should have been prepared.
"I tend to think it's our own fault," Perring said.
The EPA has fined three other New England universities--University of New Hampshire, Yale University and Boston University--for violations of hazardous waste management laws and the Clean Water Act over the last five years.
Brown spokesperson Nickel said he hopes the EPA report will not mar Brown's longstanding reputation as an environmentally conscientious school.
"We have a reputation for awareness," Nickel said. "We do have a good record...and the speed with which we have reacted should help that."