Environmental Violations to Be Fixed at Schools Across Indian Country

WASHINGTON, DC, August 24, 2011 (ENS) – Alleged violations of waste, water, air, toxics and community right-to-know laws at schools and public water systems in Indian Country must be corrected under a legal settlement reached between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior.

The DOI’s Indian Affairs Office, made up of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education, will correct all of the several hundred alleged violations at 72 schools and 27 water systems under the settlement reached Monday.

The settlement affects 60 tribes throughout the United States which have Office of Indian Affairs schools or public water systems on or near their tribal lands.

Consistent with EPA’s consultation process with tribes, EPA consulted with the 60 tribes affected prior to finalization of the settlement agreement.

Students in the lunch room at Arizona’sTuba City Boarding School, one of the schools on the settlement list. (Photo

“Children are more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults, which is why ensuring that schools provide safe, healthy learning environments for our children, particularly in tribal communities, is a top priority for EPA,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

EPA conducted compliance inspections and data reviews at more than 100 Bureau of Indian Education schools and Bureau of Indian Affairs public water systems serving these schools.

The settlement addresses all alleged violations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act’s PCB provisions, and the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act.

“Today’s landmark settlement will help strengthen public health and environmental protection in Indian Country and will improve environmental management practices at federally managed tribal schools,” said Giles.

The Department of the Interior will pay a civil penalty of $234,844, which it must spend to correct violations of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act at its schools.

The entire settlement is intended to protect students’ health and the health of communities in Indian Country by reducing potential exposure to environmental hazards in facilities that are owned, operated, or are the legal responsibility of the DOI’s Indian Affairs Office.

Under the settlement, the Department of the Interior will implement an environmental compliance auditing program and an environmental management system, designed to improve environmental practices at all of its schools and public water systems.

Independent, third-party environmental compliance audits will be conducted on a rolling three-year cycle at all BIE schools and BIA water systems. Violations uncovered during audits must be corrected within 90 days unless EPA approves a longer time. The first four years of audits will be conducted under EPA supervision.

This compliance audit is intended to improve environmental conditions at 164 DOI schools, benefitting more than 40,000 students in Indian Country.

The Department also has agreed to install a solar energy system to serve a school located in the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Reservation in Arizona, ensuring a more reliable source of electricity for the school and the community.

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