The department monitors contractors, businesses, and even government labs that handle hazardous waste, such as old paint or caustic chemicals. And the department’s latest quarterly performance report – covering January 1, 2023, to March 31, 2023 – shows that less than one-third of those inspected were in compliance with hazardous waste rules, which include things like proper labeling and storage.
In the most recent quarter, only seven out of the 24 facilities inspected were in compliance, according to Matthew Maez, the spokesperson for the department.
“It is very concerning that facilities that generate and manage some of the most toxic wastes in New Mexico get it wrong,” Maez says. “Mismanagement of these wastes can cost people and communities their health and, in some cases, their life. Further, mismanagement of these wastes can pollute our environment for years which can threaten generations of New Mexicans.”
The Environment Department has previously documented alleged compliance issues at places like the University of New Mexico, Netflix, and a range of smaller companies – although some of those violations are older than the latest department report and have since been resolved.
For example, the University of New Mexico was cited for improperly labeled containers of waste and chemicals. Netflix was cited for similar issues: They allegedly had 55-gallon drums of waste (paint and paint-related chemicals) that weren’t labeled as hazardous waste. Netflix was also cited for a few other issues, such as a lack of documentation showing coordination with emergency response officials, which Netflix has since corrected, New Mexico Environment Department documents show.
A source close to Netflix, who wanted to remain anonymous, says the company corrected all the issues and told the Environment Department about the fixes. Maez from the Environment Department confirmed that Netflix’s issues have been fixed, but the case remains an “active matter” because they are still waiting for a signature on the finalizing documents.
When the Environment Department identifies an issue, they cite the organization and give them recommendations on how to fix the issue. The facility then has to take care of the violations and pay any related civil penalties that might be imposed. Maez says this process can take about a year to conclude if the companies are able to comply.
“Compliance and enforcement programs protect workers, contractors, as well as our air, water, land, and food,” Maez says. “Some of the more toxic pollutants cannot be seen with the eye, smelled, or tasted. Our compliance and enforcement work is New Mexican’s last and sometimes only way to keep them safe.”
KRQE News 13 reached out to the University of New Mexico to learn how they have responded to the compliance allegations. As of publication, they have not responded to KRQE.