Policy: Environment & Energy

Report: Metro failing to monitor hazardous materials properly

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Photo - A metro train travels westbound along interstate 66, Thursday, December 13, 2012
A metro train travels westbound along interstate 66, Thursday, December 13, 2012
Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir,Metro and Traffic,Energy and Environment

Metro has failed to conduct mandatory inspections of its hazardous materials, report all spills of the materials, label them or even properly train the workers charged with monitoring them, according to an internal report.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority needs to use various hazardous materials to keep its trains, buses, escalators and systems running. Yet the findings from agency Inspector General Helen Lew show a continued series of problems for a transit agency that has had a checkered past with the environmental and safety controls on hazardous materials.

"The lack of adherence to policies and procedures increases WMATA's risk of non-compliance with federal, state and local environmental regulations and the safety of employees, passengers, and the general public," the report said. "WMATA could also be subject to fines and penalties for the violation of environmental laws."

Past Metro environmental fines
2011: Metro paid $8,000 for remediation of an abandoned waste disposal site in Louisiana where the transit agency had sent untreated hazardous waste, according to a report from Metro's inspector general. The payment was a settlement to avoid any further costs or responsibility for the cleanup.
2010: Metro paid the Environmental Protection Agency $18,305 for underground storage tanks that did not have protective secondary walls around them, a fine that was reduced because Metro disclosed the existence of two more tanks after the first one was found by federal officials.
2009: Metro had to pay $200,000 in fines to the EPA and was put on probation for 18 months after it was caught discharging hazardous acidic materials into the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission's sewer systems in 2003. A sewer line collapsed due to corrosion from cleaning rail cars with the acidic solution at New Carrollton, then the agency moved the washing operation to the Branch Avenue rail yard where more problems continued.

In 2009, for example, Metro paid a $200,000 fine for dumping acidic hazardous materials used when washing rail cars directly into the sewer system.

But even years after Metro admitted to that violation, the inspector general's investigators visited multiple agency sites earlier this year and found multiple levels of problems with workers failing to follow the agency's policies.

Metro workers did not always report spills of hazardous materials such as fuels and lubricants to the maintenance operations center, which in turn notifies emergency fire authorities if needed. That means the agency cannot provide a full accounting of how many hazardous spills have occurred, which could lead to fines, the report said.

The report said special compliance officers designated with inspecting hazardous-waste areas and materials failed to conduct 95 percent of the weekly checks that are required by the Environmental Protection Agency. Metro also failed to conduct one-third of its monthly checks.

Metro did not deny that it failed to conduct necessary inspections but disputed the exact numbers of missed reports.

Of the 20 compliance officers, none had completed a required training class on how to command an on-scene hazardous incident. Some also lacked two other training programs of the four required classes, according to the report.

But even so, the agency was not properly maintaining the training records for those officers in an online database, the report said. Paper copies were not always available either: a Metro official told the investigators that a flood in her office damaged the files.

Metro also did not keep copies of required paperwork for its hazardous materials or label some nonhazardous oily wastewater pumped from its elevators.

Metro officials said they agreed with most of the report's findings and have taken steps to address the problems.

"We would emphasize that the report did notidentifyany violation of regulations or laws," said Metro spokeswoman Caroline Lukas.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner