In its closing days of power, the Bush administration passed an eleventh-hour rule deregulating 1.5 million tons of hazardous waste.
Before this change, polluters had to follow strict rules designed to keep communities safe: closely tracking hazardous waste, storing it in clearly-labeled, airtight and leak-proof containers.
The new rules will allow polluters around the country to take advantage of this dangerous new loophole, which allows them to turn over their hazardous waste to unlicensed fly-by-night contractors, now free to ride off into the sunset with a truckload of poison-filled waste drums and tanks.
It's not hard to guess where these 1.5 million tons of hazardous waste will end up. When there are no regulations requiring safe practices at hazardous waste facilities, corners are cut. And the resulting dumping, spills and contamination of drinking water, air and soil disproportionately hurts our nation's lowest income communities and communities of color.
The so-called "Definition of Solid Waste" rule deregulates over 3 billion gallons of hazardous waste generated annually by chemical companies, pharmaceutical makers, steel manufacturers and other industries. The hazardous waste that will slip through this loophole contains some of the most dangerous chemicals known to man: solvents, such as benzene, toluene, TCE and perchlorate that cause cancer, birth defects, lupus and immune disorders; and metals such as lead, hexavalent chromium, mercury and arsenic—which are potent neurotoxins and carcinogens.
The government estimates each facility will save about $17,000 a year—a drop in the bucket for most of these companies, especially considering it comes at the great expense of Americans who for decades have enjoyed the benefits of safeguards meant to prevent hazardous waste spills, midnight dumping, and poor management practices that contaminate air, soil, and water. Because of this radical deregulation—the largest hazardous waste rollback since the passage of laws protecting the public from hazardous waste in 1976—those critical safeguards have vanished.
Polluters are fighting hard to keep this rule on the books. We need to fight harder. We have one chance to turn back the clock on this dangerous policy.
Get involved and learn more about how you can help protect your community from hazardous waste.