September 2005

Vermont-based Veterans Administration Hospital receives one of the highest fines imposed on a Veteran’s facility

The Veterans Administration hospital in White River Junction, Vermont, has been cited for improper handling and storage of hazardous waste, and will pay a fine in addition to addressing EPA’s concerns for public health and safety.

The hospital’s actions posed a significant threat to human health and the environment. Along with citing numerous violations, EPA’s complaint requires the VA to come into compliance with applicable hazardous waste laws within 30-days of receipt of the complaint, and seeks a penalty of $372,254.

The proposed fine is one of the largest ever issued by EPA against a Veterans Administration facility nationwide. It is also the largest fine ever issued to a federal facility by EPA’s New England regional office for improper handling and storage of hazardous waste.

“It is critical that all federal facilities which use or generate hazardous wastes, including VA hospitals, comply with laws designed to protect public health and the environment,” said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England regional office. “The proper storage and handling of hazardous wastes really translates to ensuring protection for people, for the environment and for property.”

EPA’s complaint cites numerous hazardous waste violations, including the hospital’s improper storage of containers of ether and picric acid in the facility’s clinical laboratory and pathology areas. Because these substances are potentially explosive and shock-sensitive, if they are improperly stored or handled they may pose high risks to patients, hospital personnel or to the hospital itself.

Inspectors from EPA’s New England regional office identified the hazardous waste violations during a environmental compliance inspection that comprehensively addressed requirements for hazardous wastes as well as air and water quality issues, which took place in June 2003. EPA also undertook a follow-up inspection to address hazardous waste issues in April 2004.

During the June 2003 inspection, the clinical and pathology areas of the White River Junction VA hospital were evacuated and temporarily closed because of EPA’s concerns about potential risks posed to patients, hospital staff and visitors due to the improperly stored hazardous materials. An explosives disposal company was later deployed to remove and detonate the waste, which was estimated to have the explosive power of several sticks of dynamite.

Veterans Administration medical facilities across the country are now implementing the new Green Environmental Management System (GEMS). Developed in consultation with EPA, the GEMS program represents a systematic approach to environmental management and seeks to improve environmental stewardship and compliance at VA Hospitals. “If successfully implemented, GEMS should help the Veterans Administration to prevent serious violations like these in the future,” Varney added. “Carefully adhering to the correct storage and disposal procedures for hazardous materials helps to ensure that patients and property are not put at risk from exposure to dangerous substances.”

EPA’s New England regional office has worked to improve VA Hospitals’ environmental compliance for the past eleven years, through both compliance assistance and enforcement activities. Eleven on-site Environmental Management Reviews have been conducted at each of the VA hospitals in New England — including one at the White River Junction facility in August 1999. The VA Hospital in White River Junction is the sixth VA hospital in New England to receive an EPA Administrative Complaint.

The hospital is located on a 64-acre campus in the upper Connecticut River Valley. The hospital building has 60 beds available for medical, surgery, psychiatric, geriatric, primary care, and critical care of veterans of the armed forces. The campus also hosts three national Veterans Administration Centers, including the Center for Learning and Improvement of Patient Safety.


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