If you review the cases provided by the EPA, there seems to be a broad variety of violations resulting in serious penalties. The more serious ones result in surprisingly severe penalties! The EPA is unmistakably serious about protecting the environment, and they are very serious about everyone following the laws that protect the environment.
Just reviewing some of the more recent cases, I was surprised at the number of individuals that went to jail! These were for violations concerning misuse or illegal use of refrigerants!
The take away message is: If you work in a profession that has anything to do with airconditioning or any cooling systems, or any industry that vents emissions into the air, water, or dumps anything onto the soil, make sure you find out the proper procedures for handling it.
In addition, whenever you have a spill, or any unintended emission of a potential contaminant, the best thing to do is let the EPA or your state environmental office know about it immediately! The EPA is surprisingly willing to try to work with you to avoid sanctions as long as you do the following: Routinely check for problems, immediately notify them of spills or unintended emissions, immediately take steps to fix the source, and take measures to cleanup the spill.
You should report any spill/violation within ten days of the occurrence, and immediately take steps to solve the cause, clean up the pollution, and audit your own system to prevent further problems.
There are some situations when penalties are hard to avoid! If you as an individual or your business has already been inspected for problems, or if you had problems and you have not handled them in the way described above, then it may be difficult to avoid a penalty.
Consider the following: If you wait more than ten days to report an accident, if you waited until someone turned you in, if you have demonstrated a pattern of problems during the past five years, or if you had the same problem in the same plant during the past three years, it will be difficult to avoid a penalty.
You can almost be guaranteed a penalty in cases where you have an environmental accident that is particularly dangerous, or if it is due to poor implementation of any required monitoring or sampling.
There are many environmental regulations that have their own specific requirements for reporting an illegal release of a substance. It can make it difficult to know what to do in any given situation. Some regulations even require you to publish a notice to all individuals that may have been exposed to your unexpected release of emissions or spill into a waterway!
A good rule of thumb is to always report any unintentional release of a potential pollutant to your state agency or the EPA as soon as possible! Ask them to give you a written document listing everything that you need to do! Do everything you can to clean up the pollution, and diligently audit your own pollution control system.