Skip to main content

EPA Resuscitates Medical Waste Incineration Standards

New EPA rules will cut toxic air pollution from medical waste incinerators and close a loophole that allowed incinerators to exceed pollution limits during startup or malfunctions. The new regulations, which follow two lawsuits and more than a decade of advocacy by Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, help keep dangerous pollutants out of nearby communities.

In addition to lead and mercury, medical waste incineration releases dioxin, a potent carcinogen that even in small amounts can cause cancer. Under the new rules, these harmful contaminants and other incinerator emissions will be more strictly regulated. The EPA is also requiring enhanced testing of small, rural, medical waste incinerators, resulting in better enforcement in rural communities.

"EPA's new administrator, Lisa Jackson, has taken a big step toward reducing pollution from medical waste incinerators," said Jim Pew, an Earthjustice attorney who handled the cases. "It is a breath of fresh air, figuratively and literally, that EPA has taken action that will allow people to breath more easily in towns and cities across the country."

After environmental groups challenged the EPA's 1997 rule for medical waste incinerators as unlawfully weak, the United States Court of Appeals sent the rule back to the agency for change or explanation. The Bush administration then ignored the 1999 court order, forcing Sierra Club and Earthjustice back to court in 2005 and resulting in a court ordered deadline. This rule responds to that deadline.