Washington, DC — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has issued new rules that impede needed inspections of businesses handling hazardous wastes, causing delays and disruptions, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). DEP engineers and inspectors are also protesting these same rules for exposing them to higher levels of toxic chemicals without protective equipment, annual training or medical screenings.
On November 14, 2008, DEP issued a new “Medical Monitoring Policy Guidance and Field Operations Hazardous Material and Hazardous Atmosphere Safety Policy Guidance” that is now the subject of a growing number of both internal grievances and external complaints. These rules –
- Allow DEP engineers and other non-emergency employees to be exposed to higher levels of carcinogens and other hazardous materials in conducting routine industrial inspections without respirators or other protective equipment; and
- Withhold medical monitoring and training from these specialists, thus disqualifying them from even entering hazardous waste sites, with even higher toxic levels.
By barring engineers and inspectors from many hazardous waste sites, the rules prevent these businesses from operating efficiently because it is now much harder to certify operations as meeting state regulations. PEER points to new Pennsylvania industrial facilities that cannot open and existing operations suffering delays because of DEP’s new orders.
At the same time, DEP employees are filing health and safety grievances through their union (American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Council 13). Despite the mounting concerns, DEP last week told employees that the rules will remain unchanged.
“Generally, when a state agency relaxes a rule, industry benefits. Here the opposite is occurring,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Christine Erickson, noting that the unstated motivation appears to be cost-cutting at DEP without a calculation of the consequences. “DEP has managed to simultaneously weaken health safeguards for its employees and disrupt inspections that the industry needs to function smoothly.”
In addition, PEER charges that the rules violate U.S. EPA regulations governing federal grants which finance DEP’s hazardous waste operations. In a letter sent today to EPA Regional Headquarters in Philadelphia, PEER demands that DEP rescind its new rules or face loss of federal funds.
“These rules achieve a dubious trifecta of endangering state workers, interfering with private sector jobs and violating the very federal standards that DEP is supposed to uphold,” added Erickson. “DEP owes it to taxpayers and its employees to justify what it is doing or to reverse course.”