Health & Education

EPA orders cleanup of Tribal schools nationwide

Chemawa Indian School in Salem was one of more than 160 government-operated Tribal schools that the Environmental Protection Agency has told the Bureau of Indian Affairs to clean up.

EPA inspections of the Tribal schools, which teach more than 40,000 students, between 2005 and 2008 found violations of seven environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Many schools, according to the EPA, simply were not keeping up with monitoring requirements for asbestos contamination and water quality. Others did not dispose of waste properly and a few Tribal schools registered unsafe levels of bacteria, arsenic and even uranium in the water.

According to the compliance agreement between the two federal agencies, Chemawa Indian School was in violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act by not properly marking a PCB storage area and items and failing to properly dispose of PCB bulk product waste. The school also failed to notify the EPA before starting PCB waste-handling activities.

Under the settlement, the Bureau of Indian Affairs will correct all violations at the 72 schools and 27 water systems found to be deficient, and set up a monitoring system to keep tabs on conditions. The agreement includes a $235,000 civil penalty, which will be used to clean up asbestos.

The settlement affects 60 Tribes that have Tribal schools or public water systems on or near their Tribal lands.

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

"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."

Other Northwest Tribal schools affected by the settlement include the Coeur d'Alene Tribal School and Shoshone Bannock School in Idaho and the Muckleshoot, Yakama and Quileute Tribal schools in Washington state.