Detroit High School Engineer Indicted in Mercury Contamination Case

February 20, 2004

George Carl Bush, an engineer at Finney High School in Detroit, Mich., was indicted on Feb. 4, 2004 in Wayne County Superior Court on charges that he allegedly violated state law by illegally spreading the toxic chemical mercury in two corridors at the school.

The charges allege that on Oct. 11, 2001, the defendant was angry about the allocation of school overtime hours and threatened to close the school if his union issues were not immediately addressed. A few hours later mercury was found spread in two corridors of the school and the building had to be shut down for several days for decontamination. The clothing and/or shoes of a number of students also tested positive for the presence of mercury. The defendant is charged with spreading the mercury and if convicted, faces a maximum sentence of fifteen years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

When liquid mercury is spilled, it forms mercury vapors in the air and contaminates surfaces. Human exposure to mercury occurs by breathing vapors, direct skin contact or consuming contaminated food or water. Health problems vary greatly depending on individual tolerance and the amount entering the body, but exposure to mercury in some people may result in neurological damage.

The case was investigated by the Detroit Police Department, the Cleveland Area Office of EPA's Criminal Investigation Division, the FBI and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality-Office of Criminal Investigations with the assistance of EPA's National Enforcement Investigations Center and the EPA Region 5 Emergency Response Branch. It is being prosecuted by the State Attorney General's Office in Detroit.

EPA Increases Maximum Civil Penalty to $32,500 Per Incident

On February 13, 2004 at 69 FR 7121, the EPA promulgated changes to the maximum civil monetary penalty, raising the limit to $32,500 per incident, compared to $27,500, the previous upper limit. This new limit goes into effect March 15, 2004, and can be seen at 40 CFR 19.4 in a table titled, “Civil Monetary Penalty Inflation Adjustments” in the rightmost column. You can link to the electronic CFR version by clicking here, which is not updated yet, but probably will be soon.

On June 18, 2002, at 67 FR 41343, the EPA published this change in a direct final rule and a parallel proposed rule complying with a requirement that EPA review its penalties at least once every four years and adjust for inflation as necessary. As with any direct final rule, any adverse comments received by the EPA would result in the withdrawal of the regulation. EPA received one adverse comment from the General Accounting Office (GAO) concerning the formula used to calculate the change, and subsequently withdrew the direct final rule on August 19, 2002, at 67 FR 53743.

On July 3, 2003, at 68 FR 39882, EPA re-proposed this change, and received two comments. The first commenter supported the “greatest legal increase possible” to discourage polluters from treating fines as just a “cost of doing business.” The second commenter simply addressed the ambiguity of the rounding used in the formula. Based on these comments, EPA finalized the rule as proposed, and promulgated it February 13, 2004, with an effective date of March 15, 2004.

Report on Environmental Compliance at Federal Facilities Is Available Online

EPA has released "The State of Federal Facilities, An Overview of Environmental Compliance at Federal Facilities FY2001-2002," a biennial report that provides a comprehensive overview of environmental compliance in the federal sector. Results for 2003 will not be available until later this year. The report shows that compliance rates remain near or above 90 percent for regulated federal facilities inspected under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) as well as major federal facilities regulated under the Clean Air Act (CAA). Compliance rates for federal facilities remained above 90 percent for federal facilities regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). For the full report, go to:

Voluntary Partnerships Lead to Waste Reduction and Recycling

EPA has released its first annual report on the Resource Conservation Challenge (RCC), a cross-agency initiative that identifies and uses innovative and flexible ways to conserve natural resources and energy. The report, entitled "The Resource Conservation Challenge: A Year of Progress," shows how federal and state governments, tribes and industry are achieving results in waste reduction and recycling.

The RCC, launched in 2002, focuses on nine subjects: construction and demolition debris; green buildings; electronics; hospitals; paper; industrial wastes; schools; targeted priority chemical reduction; and tires. The RCC is working to: (1) prevent pollution and promote recycling and reuse of material; (2) reduce the use of toxic chemicals; and (3) conserve energy and materials. It is accomplishing these goals with partnerships and programs that save energy, reduce greenhouse gases, create jobs and grow the economy. The Agency's long-established partnership, Wastewise, grew to over 1,300 members and new ones, such as the National Waste Minimization Partnership Program, the Coal Combustion Products Partnership, Plug-In to eCycling and the GreenScapes Alliance, grew from the ground up.

The RCC report highlights the accomplishments of some of these partnerships, including: the Plug-In to eCycling safely recycled 26.4 million pounds of computers and other electronic equipment in 2003; the tire partnership is committed to reduce, recycle or otherwise recover 85 percent of newly generated scrap tires and to reduce the number of tires in existing stockpiles by 55 percent within four years; and in 2002, WasteWise partners collectively achieved a level of waste reduction equal to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2.4 million tons.

To learn more about the RCC or to see the annual report in its entirety, go to Paper copies of The Resource Conservation Challenge: A Year of Progress (EPA530-R-04-001) and other RCC publications may be ordered online from the National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP). For on-line ordering, go to or call 1-800-490-9198 or 513- 489-8190.

Auto Shop Owner Sentenced to 37 Months for Illegal Disposal of Hazardous Waste and Conspiracy

George C. Singleton of Clinton, Mich., was sentenced to serve 37 months in prison and pay $84,000 in restitution for illegal disposal of paint wastes containing flammable materials. He was previously convicted of conspiring to violate the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and on three counts of violating RCRA.

Singleton is the owner of RT Automotive in Ypsilanti, Mich. In 1998, the defendant entered into an agreement with Automax, Inc., of Ypsilanti, an auto salvage yard, to dispose of approximately 70 drums of paint wastes containing ignitable materials. In Aug. 1998, Singleton directed the illegal disposal of the wastes which were illegally placed in an abandoned trailer in an open field in Van Buren Township, Mich. Two police officers and four firefighters required medical evaluation after approaching the trailer because of exposure to fumes.

The case was investigated by the Cleveland Area Office of EPA's Criminal Investigation Division and the FBI with the assistance of EPA's National Enforcement Investigations Center. It was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit.

EPA and Department of Energy Sign Agreement to Expand Research and Computing Collaboration

Increased collaboration on research and computing resources, including the linking of two national supercomputers, will take place under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE). This agreement builds on prior research and computing collaboration between EPA and DOE.

Under this MOU, EPA and DOE will link supercomputers in EPA's North Carolina facility and DOE's Sandia National Laboratory. High performance computing allows better and faster runs of environmental models such as the Community Multi-Scale Air Quality model, an important tool for states to meet upcoming deadlines for their air quality attainment plans.

"Linking and leveraging these two great research resources will strengthen the scientific foundation for environmental, energy and public health issues," EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt said. "By bridging the boundaries between our agencies, we both can better serve the public need."

Secretary Spencer Abraham said, "Today's agreement allows us to further our collaborative efforts and leverage the expertise of both agencies. I am particularly happy that EPA will benefit from the tremendous store of scientific knowledge and expertise in the Department of Energy's national laboratories."

Work in computational toxicology, the application of computer-based statistical techniques and molecular genetics that allow chemical testing based on a chemical's molecular structure and its effects on genes, will also be accelerated by this agreement. Computational toxicology can reduce animal testing and provide better toxicity information for chemicals in a faster manner. EPA will also benefit under the MOU from access to DOE's Joint Genome Institute. Genomics is a new area of biology, derived from the large-scale DNA sequencing efforts of the human genome, and holds the potential to reveal molecular pieces of the toxicity pathway and improve chemical risk assessments and the evaluation of the health of ecosystems.

To read the MOU, go to More information on DOE's scientific programs is available at