Safety-Kleen Pays $15M for Clean Air


Safety-Kleen will pay $15 million to settle violations in southern California over supplying cleaning solvents containing volatile organic compounds without ensuring its customers had the necessary exemptions. Despite the settlement, Safety-Kleen disputes the amounts of VOCs that regulatory officials claim were released.

Plano, Texas-based Safety-Kleen will pay $3 million in air quality penalties and costs of the investigation to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). It will also pay $12 million in unfair business practices penalties to the district attorneys offices of four counties and the Los Angeles City Attorneys Office.

The settlement covers 137 violations of air quality regulations by Safety-Kleen and 96 violations at businesses caused by Safety-Kleens distribution of non-compliant solvents, according to the states South Coast Air Quality Management District. Under the agreements terms, Safety-Kleen and not its customers will pay for violations at businesses.

This should serve as a strong deterrent to companies who flout regulations and sell high-polluting products, said William Burke, governing board chairman of the SCAQMD. If companies want to be seen as green, their actions need to support their claims.

SCQAMD said Safety-Kleen violated the states Unfair Business Practices law, when it sold cleaning solvents with more than 30 times the VOCs allowed under SCAQMD rules. District officials said the violations caused as much as one-half ton per day of excess smog-forming emissions, more than that from a medium-sized oil refinery.

In a statement Friday, Safety-Kleen disputed the amounts cited by prosecutors as inconsistent with the facts surrounding the matter. According to Safety-Kleen Executive Vice President Eric Zimmer, prosecutors did not sufficiently explain their calculations.

Whenever it gets down to anything that the district attorney or anyone else is stating as for the amount of solvents released, or how much, we completely disagree with the math that theyre using, Zimmer remarked to Lube Report. As a matter of fact, we have not even been exposed to those numbers that they have. So how they arrived at the amount of solvents released, we dont even know how they got there. Thats not us being smug – were honestly not familiar with the math behind that.

Safety-Kleen said it has spent more than 10 years and millions of dollars in research and development to replace its solvent-based cleaning systems with equally effective water-based systems. Since 1998, Safety-Kleen has converted 18,000 parts cleaning systems in southern California to water-based systems, with about 130 remaining customers in the area choosing to continue using solvent-based systems.

What this [settlement] addresses was the requirements for exemptions from certain customers to be able to use solvents in that area, Zimmer explained. We definitely didnt get it right as far as our interpretation of the requirements for us to manage, on behalf of our customers, their utilization of our [solvents]. So when the customer certifies it is exempt, we thought that was pretty much the deal. What ended up happening was no – were required to basically make sure that customer is in fact exempt. In California its a unique circumstance, with a very different set of regulations, and very complex.

Safety-Kleen is subject to a permanent injunction preventing any further violation of SCAQMD rules. The district said the company will also be required to perform additional record keeping, reporting and employee training to ensure compliance with the districts regulations.

We stepped up in a large way and resolved this issue on behalf of our customers and for Safety-Kleen, and were just glad to have this thing behind us, Zimmer stated. Were in 100 percent compliance in any of the air districts in southern California.

Under an SCAQMD regulation that took effect in 2002, virtually all fluids now used for cleaning applications must contain virtually no VOCs.

The management district said it conducted hundreds of investigations of Safety-Kleen and its customersin all four counties. SCAQMD was later aided in the case by district attorneys offices representing the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernadino, and the Los Angeles City Attorneys Office.

SCAQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County, along with major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

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