Crushed Fluorescents, Leaking Batteries Lead to Hazwaste Charges

In an effort to halt the release of hazardous waste, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered two New Jersey companies to take immediate action to ensure the safe handling of hazardous waste at a facility in Lakewood, N.J. Through an administrative order, EPA is requiring both Preferred Enterprises and Supreme Asset Management and Recovery to halt the unsafe processing, storage, and transfer of fluorescent light bulbs and batteries classified as hazardous waste, both of which contain toxic substances including mercury and lead.

"Mercury and lead can pose severe threats to people's health, so properly managing waste that contains them is of the utmost importance," said EPA Acting Regional Administrator George Pavlou. "These companies failed to handle hazardous waste in a safe manner, so EPA stepped in to protect the health of workers at the facility and New Jersey's air, land, and water."

Preferred Enterprises owns the facility in Lakewood where the improper activities took place, and Supreme Asset operates it. Supreme Computer and Electronic Recyclers Inc., which merged in 2008 with Ecoglass Recycling Inc. to become Supreme Asset Management and Recovery Inc., acquired a solid waste facility permit from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. From 2006 through 2008, Supreme accepted drums of spent fluorescent bulbs, and inspections of the facility found evidence of improper handling of crushed fluorescent blubs, a hazardous waste. Supreme was permitted to receive and store intact spent fluorescent bulbs, but not crushed bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs release mercury when crushed.

In April 2008, NJDEP issued Supreme a notice of violation for accepting the crushed bulbs and for failing to prevent the release of mercury. NJDEP officials identified several instances during which mercury may have been released into the environment at the facility. EPA inspected the facility in October 2008 and found that many bulbs had enough mercury to be classified as hazardous waste. In early 2008, Supreme shipped intact bulbs to a facility in Richmond, Va., to be crushed there. In May 2008, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry cited the company for failing to protect its employees from exposure to mercury.

During its October 2008 inspection, EPA also found that the companies were storing 40 pallets of spent lead acid batteries, some of which were badly corroded and leaking, and three containers of spent lithium batteries outdoors without proper cover. The problem persisted, and NJDEP issued Supreme a violation notice after a January 2009 inspection. In February 2009, NJDEP took steps to revoke Supreme's permit to operate a solid waste recycling business.

As a result of EPA's order, issued under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Supreme must stop accepting crushed fluorescent bulbs that contain mercury and move all crushed bulbs to a permitted facility using a carrier licensed by NJDEP. The company must also inventory intact fluorescent bulbs, ensure they are properly stored, and identify an acceptable facility that can process or recycle them. Supreme also must store leaking spent lead acid batteries in a manner that will prevent further leaks, clean up previous leaks, and manage lithium batteries in a manner that will prevent fires. Supreme is required to report its progress to EPA.

The companies met with EPA earlier this month and, while not accepting the accuracy of all of EPA's findings, they have agreed to carry out the terms of the order. EPA notes that exposure to mercury, a component of fluorescent bulbs, can adversely affect human nervous systems, and exposure to high levels can permanently damage the brain and kidneys. Short-term exposure can result in lung damage, increased blood pressure, and rashes. Exposure to lead, found in batteries, may cause reproductive, nerve, and memory problems in humans.

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