Jackson Lab faces possible $200,000 fine

Posted Oct. 02, 2008, at 9:19 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The largest employer in Hancock County, known as a worldwide leader in biomedical research, is facing a possible fine of more than $200,000 over alleged federal environmental violations.

The Jackson Laboratory could be fined $213,670 for improperly storing chemicals, insufficiently training employees in hazardous waste management and for failing to notify local and state emergency response officials about the amount of hazardous materials stored at its local Route 3 campus, according to a press release issued Thursday by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The fine is proposed in an EPA administrative order. What steps, if any, Jackson Lab can take to appeal the EPA’s findings and avoid the fine could not immediately be determined.

The press release described the suspected violating materials as “potentially explosive peroxide-forming chemicals” and indicated they were found in three of the organization’s local labs during an inspection in November 2006. The release said Jackson Lab allegedly used in-house staff members to train other employees, despite that they “were never properly trained themselves” to provide hazardous waste training.

Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued violation notices to Jackson Lab for hazardous waste infractions in 2003 and 2005, according to the release.

According to DEP environmental specialist Michael Hudson, who is familiar with the EPA inspection, the chemical that EPA believes was improperly stored at the lab was ether.

In a prepared statement issued Thursday afternoon by Jackson Lab, lab officials indicated the EPA allegations stem from a federal inspection that occurred two years ago. The inspection was EPA’s first at the lab even though the lab, in accordance with the law, first declared its use of hazardous materials in 1986, according to the lab statement.

“The Jackson Laboratory operates at the highest safety standards, including its handling of the small amounts of hazardous materials and waste present on our campus,” lab officials said. “None of the allegations represents any threat to the environment or safety of our campus or town.”

Most of the EPA allegations focus on “minor paperwork lapses” and have since been addressed, according to the lab officials.

The substances that came to the EPA’s attention amount to “five pint-sized containers” that were not proved to be dangerous and were safely removed immediately after the inspection, the lab indicated. It said it has since addressed staff certification and training issues and has “extremely close collaborations” with local and state fire emergency response officials. The materials the emergency response officials did not know were kept at the lab include rock salt, fuel oil and other “everyday materials,” the lab said.

“We look forward to meeting with EPA representatives to affirm the laboratory’s long-standing commitment to environmental health and safety,” the statement declared.

Hudson said DEP cited Jackson Lab in 2003 for violations similar to those listed by the EPA. DEP also cited the lab that year for improperly disposing of silver from its X-ray photographic processor, for improper labeling of hazardous materials and related signage, and for improperly handling the materials, he said.

In 2005, DEP again cited the lab for improperly disposing of silver from its photographic processing system, according to Hudson. In 2007, the state cited the lab for not getting one of its equipment licenses renewed, he said.

Jackson Lab successfully completed compliance schedules that were put in place after the state violations in 2003 and 2005, Hudson said. The lab was not required to pay any financial penalties to the state for those violations.

Joyce Peterson, spokes-woman for the lab, said Thursday evening that lab officials were unfamiliar with the alleged state violations from 2003 and 2005 and therefore could not comment on them.

Jackson Lab is known worldwide for using mice to conduct scientific research on human diseases and genetics, and for breeding mice used by other research institutions around the globe. The lab employs approximately 1,300 people at its Bar Harbor facility and about 100 more elsewhere.

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