In a move that will ensure the proper handling of many thousands of bulbs that contain toxic mercury and computer monitors that contain lead in New York City, EPA has reached an agreement with the city requiring it to pay $50,000 in penalties and launch a comprehensive program to properly manage such wastes, according to an EPA press release.

Inspections of several buildings managed by the Department of Citywide Administrative services (DCAS), an agency of the city, revealed improper disposal of mercury-containing light bulbs as well as used computer monitors. The city agreed not only to comply with requirements, but also to surpass them by spending at least $300,000 on a multi-facility, self-audit program to assess compliance with hazardous waste management requirements.

”Mercury and lead from such wastes can pose severe threats to people’s health if they are released into the environment when they are haphazardly tossed out,” George Pavlou, EPA Acting Regional Administrator said. “We are very happy that the city is taking steps to prevent these types of substances from entering the environment and is going beyond compliance to establish a very extensive self-monitoring project.”

The comprehensive audit program will cover more than 800 buildings owned or operated by the City of New York. The program will play a critical role in protecting human health and the environment by identifying, correcting and preventing violations of environmental regulations. Under the agreement the city has also committed to attempt to increase the recycling of spent bulbs and used computer monitors at their facilities.

Violations of hazardous waste disposal regulations were discovered from 2003-2005 during inspections of seven facilities managed by DCAS. Based on observations EPA made during the inspections and subsequent responses to requests for information, EPA concluded that DCAS had failed to make a hazardous waste determination with regard to spent fluorescent lamps or used computer monitors at the inspected facilities.

Additionally, EPA observed that DCAS had failed to meet labeling requirements and had failed to package the waste properly to prevent damage or release into the environment.

Exposure to mercury, a component of fluorescent bulbs, can adversely affect human nervous systems, and exposure to high levels can permanently damage the brain and kidneys. Short-term exposure can result in lung damage, increased blood pressure and rashes. Exposure to lead, found in computer monitors, may cause delayed neurological development in children and other adverse health effects in adults, including increased blood pressure, nephritis and cerebrovascular disease.

Both computer monitors and and fluorescent bulbs can be recycled or disposed of in a manner that lowers the risk of release into the environment.