US and Nebraska File Hazardous Substances Complaint

On Monday, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Nebraska filed a complaint against Clean Harbors Environmental Services, Inc. for violations of various environmental laws stemming from the company’s hazardous waste storage and processing practices. The twenty-two count District of Nebraska suit seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties for violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, and the Nebraska Environmental Protection Act.

According to the complaint, Clean Harbors is a Massachusetts company doing business in Nebraska. It operates a facility that treats, stores, and disposes of commercial hazardous waste in Kimball, Nebraska. The plaintiffs contend that the facility constitutes a “major source,” of “hazardous air pollutants” within the meaning of the CAA.

According to the complaint, the facility has a “hazardous waste incinerator, or thermal oxidation unit, with associated waste storage in tanks and containers, waste consolidation, and waste transfer operations.” The facility receives 55-gallon drums, large roll-off containers, and tanker trunks full of hazardous waste, which it either incinerates by use of the thermal oxidation unit or ships off-site to another designated facility. During the hazardous waste handling process, and prior to incineration, the waste is treated or stored in tanks or containers.

To build their case, the plaintiffs recount the history of the facility’s compliance inspections over the years. According to the complaint, approximately two dozen EPA site inspections took place since 2011, most of which were “RCRA compliance inspections.” Similarly, the complaint listed the dates of several Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) site inspections, including “hazardous waste compliance evaluations” and an “air inspection” beginning in 2015.

The plaintiffs charged Clean Harbors with twelve RCRA violations. The specific allegations include: failure to use containers in good condition, to properly close hazardous waste accumulation containers, to store hazardous waste containers in a manner that prevents leaks, to maintain adequate aisle space, to inspect facilities, to minimize release into the environment, and to label and date hazardous waste accumulation containers.

To support their contentions, the plaintiffs cited site inspections records where the NDEE and the EPA documented Clean Harbors’ shortcomings. These include specific allegations like, “during the 2018 EPA Inspection, a 55-gallon drum of P-Listed waste in Defendant’s less than 90-day accumulation area labeled ‘KP LAB DEBRIS’ had a lid that was not in good condition and had visible stress points.” The other federal and state law counts targeted the company for management, maintenance, monitoring, reporting, and safety violations relating to disposal practices and emission releases.

The EPA is represented by lawyers with the Department of Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Section and the United States Attorney’s Office. Nebraska is represented by the Office of the Attorney General.