Last month, two members of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP) paid an unnanounced visit to Bowdoin and cited the College for three minor violations.

The MDEP Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management, Division of Oil and Hazardous Waste Facilities Regulation came to campus to perform routine inspections of the College's handling of hazardous materials and waste.

The inspectors observed the paint shop and motor pool in Rhodes Hall, laboratory facilities in Druckenmiller Hall, the painting studio in the Visual Arts Center, the printmaking studio adjacent to Burnett House, and the painting studio and darkroom facility in the McLellan building.

The three minor violations to the State of Maine's guidelines for handling hazardous waste, which were formally reported to Facilities Management in a "Notice of Violation" were issued to the College on Wednesday. Violations included caps off or not properly attached to containers containing hazardous materials, missing labels on containers, and incomplete inspection logs.

According to Manager of Environmental Health and Safety Mark Fisher, all of the violations were "very minor" and were "common human-error issues." Within 24 hours of the MDEP visit, Facilities Management saw to it that all violations were corrected to be in compliance with Maine State regulations.

Fisher accompanied MDEP agents throughout their four hours on campus, and said that it was a "normal, everyday inspection," similar to the inspection he regularly conducts as a part of his job.

Ren Bernier, the College's science center manager and lab instructor, was present when the MDEP inspectors observed the facilities in Druckenmiller Hall and assessed all areas where hazardous materials are handled, including each of the building's 56 laboratories. He said the only violation in Druckenmiller was incomplete inspection logs, which under Maine law, are supposed to be completed daily.

According to Bernier, the College is required by law to train "anybody [in the department] who gets a paycheck" how to properly handle hazardous materials and waste. This includes professors, research technicians, and student summer research assistants. Students enrolled in courses that involve the handling of hazardous materials are supervised by their trained professors and are not involved in dealing with hazardous waste.

Bernier said that MDEP has never shown up for this specific type of inspection during his 23 years at the College. His impression of the September 9 inspections was that the College has a good hazardous material and waste management program in place and MDEP inspectors were pleased with what they observed. MDEP inspectors, Bernier said, are "not going to go anywhere and not find something."

Facilities Management had not been anticipating the inspection, since visits from the MDEP are always unannounced.

In 2002, the College took part in a national program offered by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Voluntary Compliance Program (VCP). Fisher described the program as "a self-audit process to proactively document and correct any deficiencies that may have been cited in an actual inspection." Participation and subsequent approval clears parties from inspections for five years.

Because it has been six instead of five years since the College participated in VCP, Facilities Management knew that there would be an MDEP inspection sooner or later.

Nevertheless, Fisher described the MDEP's inspection as "a good reminder" of the importance of the proper handling of hazardous materials and waste.

"If you're not clear on the rules, ask," said Fisher.