A Madison-based electronics recycling broker that formerly handled hazardous waste must pay $90,000 for failing to properly dispose of mercury and seek further environmental monitoring of the facility.
The company, Recycling Compliance Specialists – formerly known as Midwest Lamp Recycling – was found responsible for instances of improper handling and disposal of mercury dating back to 2017.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul announced a judgement against the facility yesterday. The judgment is part of an agreed civil settlement for violating state law dictating the handling and disposal of mercury.
Until 2019, Midwest Lamp Recycling was a place where retailers, like local hardware stores, could send light bulbs to be disposed of.
That can be a complex process when mercury-containing fluorescent light bulbs are concerned.
“It was the actual crushing of these lamps that created the waste. As you can imagine, different parts and different components go into lamps. Certain components can contain mercury, certain powders, certain parts of the actual bulb, and other parts of the lamp, like metal, etc., may not contain that waste. So there was a crushing operation involving some separation and some filtration that ultimately created the waste that contained mercury,” says Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Tressie Kamp, who represented the state on the case.
Kamp says Midwest Lamp Recycling did not properly handle the waste from the crushing operations.
“The disposal of the waste from the lamp crushing operations did result in some violations from our complaint as well. The mercury-containing waste was sent to a landfill, there are certain facilities that can and some facilities that cannot accept waste that is hazardous, whether that is mercury or other waste. So ultimately this mercury-containing waste was sent off site for disposal.”
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) led the investigation into the facility over the course of several years. They say that Midwest Lamp did not have a license to hold hazardous waste for any longer than 90 days – but waste was often held at the facility for longer periods.
Samples from the DNR also show that the levels of mercury in the facility’s water and waste were almost double the state’s threshold for declaring hazardous waste. But that waste was not designated as hazardous by Midwest Lamp Recycling at the time. More than 156 tons of debris was shipped to the Mallard Ridge Landfill in just a one-year period, from fall 2018 to 2019. Some of that waste would have been considered by the state to be hazardous – a type of waste the landfill at Mallard Ridge is not permitted or licensed to accept.
The complaint, filed in circuit court, also notes that Mallard Ridge Landfill was the only landfill used by Midwest Lamp for glass debris because no other landfill would accept it.
According to documents provided to WORT, DNR officials made a scheduled visit to the facility in June 20-19. While in the office of the site, DNR representatives found that the concentration of mercury in the air of the lobby was higher than their meter was able to detect, and higher than on the plant floor where the lamp crushing took place. No one in the lobby was wearing any form of protective equipment.
While this judgement only deals with the company’s policies of handling waste, it’s not the first time Midwest Lamp Recycling has gotten in trouble for mercury violations. In 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Midwest Lamp $30,000 for failing to provide workers with protection equipment during lamp crushing operations.
And according to the Capital Times, the company had exposed multiple employees to toxic levels of mercury in 2018, after employees were found with headaches, memory loss, and difficulty breathing. At the time they were cited by the federal government and ordered to pay over $25,000 dollars. The city, however, did not order any citations to the business at the time, stating the matter was a workplace safety issue to be handled by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. According to the complaint, state and local health officials reported in 2017 and 2019 that employees at Midwest Lamp had elevated levels of mercury in their urine.
The lamp crushing operations at the facility ended in November of 2019, and the company has now moved towards becoming an electronics broker and transfer facility. But the company’s shareholders Tommy Dunn and Brad Zeman, still must pay a hefty fine by 2026. Both shareholders told WORT they had no comment on the matter at this time.
Kamp says company also has to obtain an environmental consultant to investigate and sample residual mercury, as a preventative measure to make sure it stays up to code.
Photo courtesy Sandor Weisz on Unsplash under Creative Commons license.