Portrait of Florida Coddling Corporate Pollution Offenses
Hundreds of Violations Repeatedly Forgiven in Name of “Compliance Assistance”
Tallahassee — A detailed look at how Florida addresses numerous hazardous waste violations by one major corporation reveals disturbing and dangerous malfeasance, according to an analysis of state inspection reports released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Many violations found by inspectors are never officially reported and those that are reported are then downgraded to “areas of concern” while enforcement action of any kind is exceedingly rare.
The analysis examines CVS Pharmacy, the nation’s second largest pharmacy chain, after Walgreens, with 645 pharmacies, distributors and other facilities in Florida alone. Pharmacies handle a wide range of potent and toxic chemicals, such as chemotherapy drugs, opiates and other controlled substances. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified the release of pharmaceutical chemicals as a growing threat to the drinking water of millions of Americans.
In analyzing 118 inspection reports covering 116 different facilities (one store was inspected three times) only three facilities were initially found in compliance. Of the 115 remaining cases, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) took enforcement in only two. DEP employed a variety of techniques in order to avoid enforcement, even for violations that are serious in nature –
- Many violations found in the inspection logs were not included in the final report, in essence, causing the offense to vanish from regulatory recognition;
- Other violations were reduced to a category called “areas of concern,” precluding enforcement and migrating it into realm of “compliance assistance” even when there were repeat and multiple violations of the same type; and
- Inspectors still found violations even when they gave advance warning of what are supposed to be surprise inspections.
“In almost all cases where violations were found, the final report concluded that the facility was ‘in compliance’ nonetheless,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who analyzed the actual case files. “The Department’s approach to this company’s voluminous violations seems to reflect a senior management decision that DEP’s role was not to act as a protector of public health but as a corporate assistance service.”
In contrast to the almost complete absence of enforcement against CVS in Florida, California obtained a permanent injunction against the company requiring all of its 902 stores in the state to abide by these same hazardous waste requirements being flouted in Florida. In addition, California won an assessment of civil penalties and costs totaling $13.75 million.
“This analysis exposes the hoax behind Governor Rick Scott’s claim of nearly universal corporate pollution compliance in Florida,” added Phillips, who also last month compiled and released a statewide breakdown of hazardous waste enforcement which evidenced the pattern exemplified by this CVS profile. “These are not mere paperwork matters: Serious multiple violations significantly raise the risk of harm to the company’s employees, the public and to the environment while creating a sizeable unfair economic advantage over other companies who attempt to comply with those same laws. In wake of the tragedy in Flint, Michigan, we should expect our state environmental agencies to do a better job”
Look at the report appendices (allow time to download)