Jun 13


EPA fines Buffalo for mishandling waste

The City of Buffalo will pay a $21,094 fine and spend $79,000 on nine community recycling events as punishment for numerous violations of federal hazardous waste laws under an agreement announced Thursday with the Environmental Protection Agency.

City officials also agreed to improve its management of hazardous waste and spent lamps- a commitment the city failed to honor three years ago.

The EPA conducted two investigations in 2008 and 2011 that found various violations of hazardous waste laws that put city employees and neighborhood residents at risk of potential mercury poisoning and chemical explosions.

The settlement comes two days after Investigative Post’s report on the city’s sloppy handling of spent lamps and hazardous waste.

An EPA official said the federal agency was most concerned about the cache of containers holding hazardous waste such as ignitable solvents, paints and thinners in the city’s mechanical services building on Seneca Street. Many of the hundreds of containers had corroded and leaked, EPA records state. The city paid a firm to clean up the mess in March 2012, the EPA said.

“I don’t know how long that stuff was there,” said Steve Stepniak, the city’s public works commissioner. 

EPA records state the cache of hazardous waste in the Seneca Street facility could have resulted in a fire or explosion.

But Stepniak refused to make a public apology to the Seneca Babcock neighborhood residents who were put at risk.

“I do think it’s a big deal,” he said.

Stepniak said the mishandling was the result of a series of “human errors.” He said the recycling coordinator and himself are now the point people for managing spent lamps and hazardous waste. He also said the city will hire a firm to assist in managing spent lamps and hazardous waste, but he wouldn’t name the company or provide more details. 

In 2008, EPA inspectors discovered that city employees and tenants of city-owned buildings were not safely disposing of spent lamps, which can contain small amounts of lead or mercury. The EPA documents state that city officials admitted that many of the spent lamps had been tossed in the garbage.

As a result, city officials signed an agreement with the EPA in April 2011 that led federal officials to believe the problems had been solved and the city would follow federal hazardous waste laws.

But five months later EPA inspectors returned to find more serious problems, including the several hundred containers of ignitable hazardous waste in the Seneca Street facility.

After these discoveries, the EPA filed a second complaint in the fall of 2013. It accused Buffalo of not honoring its April 2011 commitment and failing to properly manage its spent lamps and hazardous waste. The city, according to the complaint, did not keep storage containers in good condition and failed to minimize the risk of fires, explosions or releases of the waste into the environment.

The city faced the prospect of a $112,500 fine. The settlement announced Thursday isn’t as harsh on the city’s purse strings, however.

In addition to the fine, the city is required to host a community recycling event in each of the city’s nine Common Council districts to collect spent lamps, electronics and hazardous waste to raise awareness. The EPA said in a statement that these events will “reduce the likelihood of exposure by residents to harmful chemicals found in these products, while also reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills.”

“Many products found in the home can be harmful to the environment and human health if not disposed of correctly,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck in a prepared statement.

“Household hazardous waste, such as petroleum products, paint solvents/thinners and pesticides can be dangerous and should be disposed of properly. Likewise, fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury, and should be recycled whenever possible. By implementing this program, the City of Buffalo will have a positive impact on the health of its residents.”

The city’s first community hazardous waste collection event is scheduled for Saturday, June 28, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Honeywell Specialty Materials at 20 Peabody St.

Investigative Post

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