The Environmental Protection Agency is failing to protect communities and the public from toxic air pollution emitted by plants that produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and related plastics, environmental groups argued today.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments in a case (Docket # 02-1282) challenging EPA's inadequate regulations for controlling toxic air emissions from PVC plastics manufacturing plants. Earthjustice is representing the Sierra Club and Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN) in the case.
"Here in Mossville, we're unlucky enough to have two nearby PVC plastics plants sending toxic pollution into our air," said Edgar Mouton, President of MEAN. "We deserve better, stronger protections from EPA."
"PVC plastics plants belch tons of toxic pollutants into the air, contaminating the bodies and homes of plant workers and downwind residents," said Jim Pew, attorney for Earthjustice, who argued the case on behalf of the environmental groups. "EPA knows these emissions endanger people's health, but the agency has chosen to do nothing about it."
Plants that produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and related plastics emit vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen, as well as several other pollutants included on the list of more than 180 "hazardous air pollutants" (HAP) specified under the Clean Air Act. In 1990, Congress amended the Act to address the threat to public health from these particularly dangerous substances, by requiring EPA to set emission standards for a variety of facilities, including plastics plants.
Twenty-eight PVC plastics plants currently operate in the United States (including facilities that contribute to the public health and environmental problems in Mossville, Louisiana) and are classified as "major sources" requiring emission standards under the Act. By law, those standards must reflect the "maximum degree of reduction . . . achievable." At a minimum, standards for new sources must reflect the emission levels currently being achieved by the "best controlled similar source," and standards for existing sources must reflect the average emission level currently achieved by the cleanest five sources.
On July 10, 2002, EPA issued its national PVC plastics plant rule. Rather than setting emission standards requiring the maximum currently-achievable reduction in HAP emissions, EPA opted to rely on an emission standard for vinyl chloride emissions that was set in the 1970s, before Congress rewrote a portion of the Act to incorporate the more stringent requirements described above. These standards do not reflect the maximum achievable degree of reduction, and allow far higher emission levels than the cleanest plants are currently achieving.
By recycling its outdated standard, EPA has failed to require any reduction in current toxic emissions from PVC facilities. EPA reached this result despite its recognition that current vinyl chloride emission levels "may reasonably be anticipated to result in an increase in mortality or an increase in serious, irreversible, or incapacitating reversible illness." The EPA regulation also fails to set any standard for pollutants other than vinyl chloride, even though it is well known that the PVC plastics plants also emit large amounts of other hazardous air pollutants, including chlorine, hydrogen chloride, and methanol.
The environmental groups argue that the 2002 regulation should be set aside, and a new deadline be set by the Court for EPA to promulgate a proper standard for PVC plants.
"No community should be held hostage, forced to stay in their homes to protect themselves and their families from the hazardous air pollutants produced by plastics manufacturers," Sierra Club Air Quality Committee member in Houston, Texas, and founder and chairwoman of the Texas Bucket Brigade. "EPA must step up to the plate and force PVC manufacturers to reduce their hazardous air pollution emissions to levels that better protect human health."
The case is Mossville Environmental Action Now, et al. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, D.C. Cir. No. 02-1282.
Click here for a downloadable soundbite from attorney Jim Pew. (2,972 kb downloadable AUDIO)