Regular Audits Can Help Avoid Heavy DTSC Fines

The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) issued a news release in January highlighting some of the department’s enforcement activity in 2012. This gives some insight into DTSC’s enforcement priorities and also can be helpful in identifying some of the more common violations, and the monetary penalties associated with the violations.

The news release reveals DTSC’s enforcement targets are wide ranging. The department issued over $31 million in fines in 2012. Captured in those enforcement actions were transporters, universal waste facilities, plating shops, and even Walgreens and CVS. As you might imagine, the violations were diverse as well, including improper handling and disposal of hazardous waste, permitting, recordkeeping, improper labeling of containers, and personnel training. Full release

The fines associated with the violations are staggering, ranging from close to $100,000 to the tens of millions of dollars. Even some of the more minor violations, usually technical and administrative in nature, are resulting in fines assessed at a higher level than in previous years. The amounts of these fines can seriously threaten a company’s financial stability.

In my experience with the DTSC, enforcement is a high priority. They may investigate any company on the basis of an anonymous complaint. All it takes is one disgruntled employee, or customer, to make one phone call, and the DTSC will respond to the complaint, many times in the form of an unannounced inspection. Those inspections are invasive and disrupting, and if your company is out of compliance with the many regulations governing the management of hazardous waste, they can also be terrifying and financially destabilizing.

Many companies address this risk by having an outside consultant do a periodic audit on their facility. Those audits can be very helpful in identifying the regulatory exposure of a particular company. They may even help reduce a company’s fine if violations are found, since the inspector may see that as a true attempt to stay in compliance. Regardless, those audits can pay for themselves many times over by identifying issues that would result in heavy fines if an inspector were to find them first.