May 22, 2003
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YSI agrees to pay fine for hazardous waste violations
YSI Incorporated has agreed to pay $275,000 in fines for hazardous waste violations as part of a settlement with the State of Ohio.

The settlement also includes a consent order, which both YSI and the Ohio attorney general’s office have signed, and includes plans for YSI to investigate and, if necessary, remediate contaminated soil and groundwater at the company’s Brannum Lane facility and its old High Street building, where the violations occurred. Based on comments by a YSI official and Ohio EPA officials, much of the work under the new consent order will be folded into the company’s current investigation, which started several years ago when contaminated groundwater was found at YSI’s Brannum campus.

Of the total fine, $110,000 would be paid into the State’s hazardous waste cleanup fund, and another $165,000 would be used to fund supplemental environmental projects: $100,000 would go to the State’s remediation trust fund; YSI will pay $60,000 — half of which is credited toward the penalty — to fund a private technical assistance grant, which would be made available to one or more local nonprofit organizations; and $35,000 would be used to fund at least one local environmental project.

Signed earlier this month, the settlement must be approved by Judge Stephen A. Wolaver in the Greene County Common Pleas Court, where the State filed its lawsuit against YSI last year.

Two of YSI’s neighbors, Fred Arment and Lisa Wolters, who are represented by Cincinnati attorney D. David Altman, have intervened in the case and have a 30-day period to comment on the consent order. On Tuesday, Altman said the neighbors will ask Judge Wolaver to extend the comment period another 45 days.

In an interview on Monday at YSI’s headquarters, Lisa Abel, the company’s director of corporate social responsibility, said she liked that a “good portion” of YSI’s penalty will be used to fund supplemental environmental projects, including two local projects. “It’s O.K. to put the total penalty in the State’s coffers, but it’s nice to have local benefit,” she said.

Though Rick Omlor, the company’s president and CEO, was out of the country on business and unavailable for comment, he said in a press release announcing the settlement, “We believe the amount of the penalty is fair and we understand that YSI must accept responsibility for this legacy liability.”

Altman said that the consent order is “deficient” on a “number of fronts.” The order, for instance, “too narrowly defines” the areas where chemicals were disposed at YSI, “without getting enough historic information,” Altman said in a phone interview from his office. He also highlighted other parts of the order, including the deadlines and definitions, which he said need to be clarified.

As he has before, Altman said that he wants to introduce to the court documents that will help Judge Wolaver “determine whether the consent order is adequate.”

Mark Gribben, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, which negotiated the consent order and settlement, said that the order is the “appropriate remedy for the situation concerning YSI.” He said that the State issues penalties that are “designed to ensure a proper cleanup is done” and to give a company the “proper incentive to make sure similar things don’t happen again.”

Last May, the State of Ohio filed a suit against YSI, claiming that the company violated Ohio’s hazardous waste and water pollution laws and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976. The State took that action after YSI revealed in May 2002 that it had learned that a small group of employees dumped 1,1,1-trichlorethane (1,1,1-TCA) onto the ground at the Brannum Lane facility, contributing to the groundwater contamination that has been found on and around the property.

Abel said in Monday’s interview that YSI also knows employees improperly disposed of hazardous wastes on the ground in the 1960s and 1970s, before RCRA was on the books.

“People talked about coffee cups or beakers of solvents” being poured out, she said, adding that “different groups did different activities.” For instance, Abel said that some employees poured solvents outside on the ground while others “poured stuff down the drain.”

The State complaint included nine counts that detail various violations, including the dumping charge.

As part of the settlement YSI agreed to perform, and fund, several extra projects, which are called supplemental environmental projects.

One project calls for YSI to provide $60,000 to fund a private technical assistance grant, which would be used to help local residents interpret and comment on “site-related information and decisions” that are made during YSI’s investigation and cleanup. Residents would be able to hire independent consultants or advisors to help review work plans and reports and visit the cleanup site.

Abel compared this effort to the Source Water Protection Committee, a group of local residents who have met to discuss and monitor YSI’s progress. The company has paid for a consultant, Bennett & Williams Environmental Consultants, to assist the committee in studying and commenting on YSI’s plans and data.

Local nonprofit community groups that are affected or could be affected by YSI’s site are eligible for the funds. YSI will accept proposals once Judge Wolaver approves the consent order, Abel said. If more than one proposal is made, the company will try to get the groups to work together and split the funds, she said. If this is not possible, the company will ask the Village Environmental Commission to select one group.

YSI would also fund a second environmental community-based project, which does not have to be related to YSI’s investigation. Abel said that 16 ideas were proposed and the State found that five, submitted by eight people, qualified. YSI will select which project will get the funding.

The consent order also requires YSI to investigate and remediate the contamination caused by the release of waste material at its Brannum Lane facility.

Since 2001, YSI has been investigating the groundwater and soil contamination found on and around the Brannum property. Last year, YSI signed an administrative order with the Ohio EPA that laid out how the company would address the pollution. As part of the agreement, YSI agreed to provide Village water to its neighbors.

The company hopes to include that work into the activities it will be required to perform under the proposed consent order. YSI would “like to be able to make the shift without having to start over,” Abel said.

“Everything we’ve done gets folded into this,” she said of the consent order.

Matt Justice and Debora Depweg, the two Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials who will now oversee the agency’s intervention at YSI, were out in the field on Tuesday and were unavailable for comment. The officials, who work for different divisions within the Ohio EPA, have said that they plan to work together.

Though not included in the original State suit, the consent order also addresses a violation involving YSI’s old building at 506 South High Street.

During the construction of the company’s corporate office building, in 1995 to late ’96 or early ’97, Abel said, YSI transported and stored isopropyl alcohol at the High Street building, which Patrick Ertel purchased from YSI in 2001 for his publishing business, Antique Power. The activity, Abel said, was not conducted under Ohio EPA protocols or permits.

Abel said that she “can’t speculate” why the chemical, which is used for cleaning parts, was moved to High Street. She also said she was “not sure who ordered it.”

Under the consent order, YSI must investigate whether the building and property are contaminated. If chemicals are found in the soil or groundwater above acceptable Ohio EPA limits, the company must remediate the site, the order states.

“There’s no evidence that we have that there was any release of chemicals into the environment” at the High Street building, said Gribben, the Attorney General spokesman.

The order also includes a provision for public participation, including holding meetings with Ohio EPA and YSI officials; releasing fact sheets on the investigation and cleanup; and allowing for public comments on “critical documents,” such as a public participation plan and cleanup report.

—Robert Mihalek