Failure to mark containers of hazardous waste.
Failure to provide adequate hazardous-waste training.
Failure to conduct and document weekly inspections of hazardous-waste accumulation areas.
Failure to submit annual reports regarding the use of diesel fuel.
These are some of the 18 categories of violations that a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency team found when it inspected MIT’s campus and labs in 1998. By the time the five-day visit was over, the team had recorded more than 3,000 violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. Although most of the infractions were minor, and none had resulted in harm to the environment, the EPA worried about the widespread pattern of violations and the lack of central institutional responsibility. It gave MIT five years to develop and implement an environmental-management system that would document campuswide training and monitor overall compliance, and it fined the Institute $555,000.
Over the next three years, staff attorneys negotiated a settlement with the EPA that reduced the cash fine to $150,000. The Institute put the other $405,000 toward three supplemental environmental programs designed to benefit the wider Cambridge community, as well as other colleges and universities (see “Supplemental Programs Shine,” p. 2 sidebar). And this June MIT put the finishing touches on an environmental-management system that, according to EPA enforcement attorney Catherine Smith, far exceeds the agency’s expectations.
The settlement has had an even greater impact on campus, providing the impetus for numerous initiatives aiming to make MIT a leader, rather than a follower, in environmental protection. With the support of President Charles M. Vest HM, the Institute created an environmental program office, restructured and expanded its safety offices, launched an environmental task force, and signed on to the city’s goal to recycle 40 percent of its waste by 2005. MIT now recycles construction and demolition debris and, as part of a broader initiative to reduce energy consumption on campus, is incorporating as many “green” elements as possible into new and renovated buildings. Faculty, students, and staff have organized forums and educational programs to exchange ideas and strengthen MIT’s commitment to environmental responsibility. “MIT is a world leader in environmental education and research,” says Bill Van Schalkwyk, director of environmental, health, and safety programs at MIT, a position created in response to the EPA inspection. “Quite frankly, our operations should measure up to [those] lofty goals.”