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For Immediate Release: Jan 16, 2001
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCY MISHANDLED TOXIC MATERIALS

State Employees At Risk


Augusta. . . Improper storage of hazardous wastes by Maine's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) created health risks for their own employees, according to agency documents released today by Maine Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Maine PEER) a non- profit organization that supports state and federal resource employees. The wastes consisted of pesticides and other toxic materials collected under the state's Pesticide Collection Program and stockpiled on the grounds of Augusta Mental Health Institute without proper storage containers.

The documents indicate that although state environmental officials were aware of the risks, they did not act to move or contain the hazardous waste as required by law. In a letter sent last week to state Attorney General Steven Rowe's office, Maine PEER details a number of safety incidents, including:

A DEP maintenance mechanic who was sent to the emergency room of a local hospital to be treated for nausea, dizziness and chest tightness after unknowingly working in the building containing the hazardous waste in August 1997.

Augusta response staff who reported pungent odors associated with the uncontained toxic materials in July 1997.

Papers from the DEP regional office that certified that the materials were correctly identified and packed for shipping, while a memo from the Augusta Response Safety Coordinator notes that many containers were "improperly packed for shipment," and that "some incompatible materials were shipped together illegally."

The Maine PEER letter requests that the Attorney General investigate and prosecute regulatory violations and possible criminal negligence on the part of DEP officials who placed state employees at risk.

"This is an opportunity for Maine's new Attorney General to demonstrate the state's commitment to the health and safety of its employees," commented Maine PEER Director Tim Caverly, "I'm appalled that the DEP put workers at risk and then adopted a 'see no evil' stance."