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Recent EPA Fines: What Can We Learn to Steer Clear of Penalties?

Toby Graham /

In the first quarter of 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nearly doubled its amount of settlement agreements from the previous quarter. The EPA settled 290 agreements, up from 150 in Q4 of 2020, with US companies both large and small. The fines for Q1 of 2021 totaled over $6 million.

EPA Violations and Fines

The EPA is responsible for the protection of human health and the environment.  The EPA provides technical assistance to support recovery planning of public health and infrastructure, such as waste water treatment plants, as well as technical assistance for long-term cleanup to minimize public health threats, including environmental sampling and monitoring, site assessment, decontamination, and disposal. The EPA also provides environmental surveillance.

EPA works to ensure compliance with environmental requirements. When warranted, EPA takes civil or criminal enforcement action against violators of its laws.

2021 EPA Penalties

EPA penalties can rack up fast!
Here’s how they look for 2021:

Clean Air Act
Daily: $48,762 –  $102,638
Maximum (per violation): $390,092

Clean Water Act  
Daily: $22,584 – $56,460
Maximum (per violation): $282,293

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Daily: $61,820 -$102,638

Some common violations under the EPA include:

  • Illegal disposal of hazardous waste
  • Illegal discharge of pollutants into a water supply
  • The removal and disposal of regulated asbestos containing materials in a manner inconsistent with the law and regulations
  • Illegal importation of certain restricted or regulated chemicals into the United States
  • Tampering with a drinking water supply

The EPA Has Been Busy: Fines in 2021

As mentioned in EHS Daily Advisor, here are some examples of EPA’s recent activity.

Storing hazardous waste for too long nets company $232,000 fine

“A waste management company in Texas was fined $232,800 for violations of the state’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)-authorized dangerous waste regulations regarding storing hazardous waste for a period of greater than 10 days; obtaining a permit on the occasions when it stored hazardous waste for a period of greater than 10 days; and having interim status or being in the process of applying for a permit on the occasions when it stored hazardous waste for a period of greater than 10 days. Additionally, the company did not meet the requirements for a permit exemption for storing hazardous waste for a period of greater than 10 days”

Failure to label hazardous waste nets a $105,000 RCRA penalty

“A medical center in Florida was penalized $105,500 for RCRA violations, including failure to mark or label containers of hazardous waste located within the pharmacy satellite accumulation area (SAA) with an indication of the hazards of the contents; failure to keep multiple containers holding hazardous wastes in the 90-day central accumulation areas closed; failure to perform weekly inspections of the two hazardous waste 90-day central accumulation areas; failure to mark or label numerous containers of hazardous waste located in 90-day central accumulation areas with the words “hazardous waste”; failure to indicate the hazards of the content; and failure to ensure the date upon which each period of accumulation begins was clearly visible for inspection on each container.”

Risk management and general duty violations net a $560,000 Clean Air Act fine

A Massachusetts adhesive and sealant manufacturer fined $560,000 for violations of the risk management plan (RMP) and general duty clause (GDC) requirements of the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) Chemical Accident Prevention provisions The company failed to adequately test and maintain its outdoor chemical storage tanks and piping. Along with the civil penalty, the company will complete certain repair and maintenance work.

Lots of Clean Water Act Penalties

According to EHS Daily Advisor, “The EPA cited 62 different entities for violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA), including oil and construction companies, for inadequate Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans, as well as towns and cities for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit violations. The fines totaled $1,120,350 and ranged from $917 to $150,250.”

EPA fines can be avoided.

How? Companies should:

  • Be Proactive – Plan before a project even starts. All construction projects should review EPA’s guidelines for emergency stormwater discharge plans. The potential environmental impact when stormwater runs through a worksite and picks up “pollutants like sediment, debris, and chemicals from that loose soil and transport them to nearby storm sewer systems or directly into rivers, lakes, or coastal waters” (EPA) can be devastating. So before construction starts put the proper stormwater controls in place so that construction can proceed in a safe way.
  • Stay in Compliance – Staying on top of  EPA regulations can be mind-numbing and time-consuming task, but large fines can be the result of not staying in compliance. Remember that these regulations do more than protect the environment, they protect a company’s employees and the surrounding communities.

KPA can help you navigate EPA’s regulations.

KPA provides compliance audit services with all of the onsite and virtual resources needed to identify, track, resolve, and report issues. Our certified consultants leverage a robust database of EPA, OSHA, DOT, and state regulatory references to bring best practices and tangible recommendations for EHS program improvements.

If you have questions about any specific EPA requirements discussed here, you can always reach out to us.

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