EPA Fines Buffalo, Citing Environmental Mishap

I love my hometown. For all 39 years that I’ve been doing my thing, Buffalo, NY is where I’m most proud to be, though sometimes it fails to impress and becomes downright embarrassing. Despite all the recent good news about the Queen City, such as Larkinville, Canalside, Riverbend, and the growing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, once in a while it steps on its own toes and makes you wonder what it was thinking.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently fined the city of Buffalo $21,094 for violating federal hazardous waste laws. In addition, it mandated that the city spend $79,000 on nine recycling events for its community. The events will collect spent items such as electronic waste, fluorescent light bulbs, and other dangerous waste from residents. The goal is to keep harmful chemicals away from families and children, and to reduce what is sent to landfills.

The city’s officials also agreed to better manage both hazardous waste and spent lightbulbs. After being investigated by the EPA in 2008 and 2011, and reaching an agreement for compliance, one would assume that Buffalo had learned its lesson and was abiding by government-issued decrees.

A report from Investigative Post says otherwise. The city put its residents at risk by storing the waste in close proximity to neighborhoods. The report states,

An EPA official said the federal agency was most concerned about the cache of containers holding hazardous waste such as ignitable solvents, paints and thinners in the city’s mechanical services building on Seneca Street. Many of the hundreds of containers had corroded and leaked, EPA records state. The city paid a firm to clean up the mess in March 2012, the EPA said.

The EPA discovered that the city was storing several hundred old fluorescent bulbs in City Hall and in its Mechanical Services Building. Additionally, large amounts of spent cathode ray tubes were carelessly stored in multiple facilities owned by the city.

Amazingly, the city’s Commissioner of Public Works, Steven Stepniak, not only admitted to being unaware of how long the items were in the Mechanical Services Building, but refused to apologize to residents in the Seneca Babcock neighborhood who were put at risk due to exposure.

Buffalo, after many years of neglect and mismanagement, is finally turning the corner. Businesses are springing up and jobs are being created, especially in the environmental and energy sectors. It’s especially deflating then, when something so critical to the city’s future and the public’s health is overlooked. Let’s hope the city’s government gets a better hold on issues that cannot only ruin its image, but people’s lives as well.

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