UPS car prepares for a pick-up. (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons: CC BY-SA 3.0)

More than a dozen UPS distribution and transportation centers in Oregon have been fined by the Environmental Protection Agency for violating federal hazardous waste reporting and disposal rules. 

The fines, for $4,589 each or just over $64,000 collectively, are part of a nationwide settlement that the global delivery company reached with EPA.

In total, United Parcel Service will pay more than $5.3 million for violations at 1,160 distribution facilities across 45 states and Puerto Rico. UPS has 36 months to come into compliance with federal hazardous waste rules as part of the settlement.

In Oregon, the 14 UPS distribution facilities fined are in Portland, Roseburg, Hillsboro, Medford, Tualatin, Salem, Springfield, Newport, Hermiston and The Dalles.

These facilities manage and dispose of hazardous waste that comes through damaged packages, as well as some hazardous substances they generate in day-to-day maintenance. Substances they handle include arsenic, lead and mercury, and materials that are flammable, reactive or corrosive.

The UPS facilities are supposed to report hazardous waste and disposal to EPA, but the agency found that oftentimes this was not happening.

Ann Stephanos, an EPA attorney, said in an email that there was no evidence the violations led to water or land contamination or posed risks to people or animals.

“Rather, EPA found that in some instances, the UPS facility didn’t properly notify EPA,” she wrote, “or they failed to submit annual/biennial reports or didn’t complete the manifests properly.”

The investigation of the company’s handling of hazardous waste began in 2019 in Fort Smith, Arkansas. That state’s Department of Environmental Quality inspected a UPS distribution facility there and identified gaps in reporting hazardous waste and management and sent its findings to EPA. 

Using its national database for tracking hazardous waste shipments, the agency determined which UPS distribution and processing centers nationwide were handling hazardous waste and not properly reporting substances and their disposal.

UPS is now creating an online system where distribution facilities can log new hazardous waste every time it’s generated or collected from damaged packaging, and it will then notify EPA. 

UPS’ director of media relations, Matthew O’Connor, wrote in an email that employee safety and environmental stewardship are high priorities. 

“We have long-standing procedures in place for handling hazardous waste and are taking additional steps to further enhance our practices,” he wrote.

Oregon Capital Chronicle

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Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.