U to pay $18,000 pollution fine

Officials found mercury in several areas after debris was removed.

by Anna Weggel

The University will pay $18,000 to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for a civil penalty regarding hazardous-waste violations on campus.

Some of the violations include failure to evaluate waste, improper management of hazardous waste and the disposal of debris potentially contaminated with mercury, according to a press release from the agency.

Before renovating the former Health Sciences building in St. Paul and Jones Hall on the East Bank, the University failed to conduct mercury sampling at the sites.

Officials discovered mercury in several areas after demolition debris was removed from the Health Sciences building. The debris was sent to transfer stations and an unlined demolition landfill, according to the press release.

Because the debris was not tested, the amount contaminated is unknown.

“The important thing to note is that we are not really able to determine if mercury was in some of the material and how much mercury there was,” said Kathleen O’Brien, vice president for University Services.

She said some levels of mercury are not as hazardous as others, and the level of risk is often determined by the use of the building.

The University removed approximately 4,000 square feet of hardwood flooring for reuse during the Jones Hall renovation, according to the press release.

Officials then discovered mercury under the remaining flooring and were able to get back approximately 3,900 square feet of it. The people who purchased the other 100 square feet could not be identified, however.

The University offered to replace the flooring of those who purchased the material that might contain mercury and have cleaned up the Health Sciences building along with addressing mercury concerns at Jones Hall, according to the press release.

O’Brien said that the University has 30 days to pay the fine once the agreement is officially signed.

Since fall, the University has established two work groups to deal with environmental issues on campus, she said.

The first group assesses how to identify mercury on campus and what to do with it once it’s identified. The second group deals with managing aspects of capital planning and project management.

O’Brien said the University thought its original assessment of the buildings was sufficient.

“Mercury isn’t always discoverable in a regular assessment,” she said.

“One of the things that we’ve learned from this is we need to do a better assessment of what the uses might have been in the buildings and then try to identify if there was mercury present and then how to clean that up.”