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Dolton plant owner to pay $350,000 after hazardous waste citations

EPA threatened a civil action against Safety-Kleen, alleging it violated multiple federal and state environmental laws for treatment and handling of waste.

The EPA deems Dolton, where a hazardous waste business operates, to be an “environmental justice” area that is overburdened with pollution.
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The company that owns a Dolton plant that processes chemical solvents agreed to pay $350,000 to settle government allegations that it improperly handled hazardous waste.

The owner of the Safety-Kleen Systems facility in Dolton entered into an agreement last week after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency threatened to take legal action against the company following numerous problems identified in a 2019 inspection, the agency said Monday.

The hazardous materials operation receives chemical solvents where it processes them for reuse.

After two inspections in 2019, the EPA accused the plant operators of nine violations of federal and state environmental laws. In January of this year, the agency threatened to file a civil action against the company.

The business violated terms of its government permits, including improper storage of hazardous waste and failure to control emissions from container tanks. During an EPA inspection, eight hazardous waste tanks were discovered to release air pollution even though they were required to operate without any emissions.

Safety-Kleen’s permits require it to make sure “hazardous waste is controlled from the time it is generated until its ultimate disposal,” the EPA said in a statement.

The plant was treating hazardous waste in an unapproved manner, the agency said, citing one legal violation.

The EPA also alleged that, in at least one instance, the company shipped hazardous waste that it labeled as “non-hazardous.”

By entering into a “consent agreement” with the agency, the company doesn’t admit to breaking laws. The company didn’t “concur with all of EPA’s finding” but agreed to the penalty “to move forward,” James Buckley, a senior vice president for Safety-Kleen’s parent company, Massachusetts-based Clean Harbors, said in an email.

“We work hard to maintain strong relationships with all federal and state regulators as well as the local communities in which we operate,” Buckley said.

Cheryl Johnson, executive director of the South Side environmental group People for Community Recovery, said she wishes money the agency collects from such civil fines would flow back to the neighborhoods where the plants are located.

“It’s the community members who suffer,” Johnson said.

Last year, the agency settled an air pollution case for $530,000 with American Zinc Recycling on Chicago’s Southeast Side. The settlement also required the company to invest about $8 million in pollution controls.

Both the Southeast Side and Dolton, a low-income village that is more than 90% Black, are designated by the EPA as “environmental justice” communities that are overburdened with pollution.

“This settlement with Safety-Kleen reflects EPA’s commitment to protect human health and the environment by ensuring compliance with state and federal environmental laws and advancing environmental justice,” Cheryl Newton, the agency’s acting regional administrator in Chicago said in a statement.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.