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Clean Air Act Loophole Exempts Cleanup of Toxic Waste Sites

Victory: Environmental groups challenge inadequate EPA regulations for cleanup of toxic waste sites
December 5, 2003
Washington DC —

Environmental groups filed suit today challenging regulations published by the Environmental Protection Agency that will allow hazardous chemicals at toxic waste sites to be pumped into the air without any control measures.

"On behalf of its friends in the polluter lobby, the Bush administration has engaged in a scam that the Enron Board would admire," said Jim Pew, attorney for Earthjustice who is representing the environmental groups. "This rule will allow polluters to avoid much of the cost of cleaning up their toxic waste by just shifting their poisons from the water and soil to the air."

The cleanup of toxic waste sites typically uses heat or aeration methods to remove chemicals from contaminated soil and water. In the process, it releases a wide array of toxic compounds into the air, including such well-known human carcinogens as benzene and vinyl chloride. Previously, EPA had listed these cleanup operations (sometimes referred to as "site remediations") as a major source of hazardous air pollution that must be regulated under the Clean Air Act's highly protective air toxics provisions.

In October, however, EPA issued a rule completely exempting the bulk of toxic waste cleanups - all those conducted under the Superfund law (CERCLA) or state programs run under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)- from Clean Air Act emission standards.

EPA claims that emission standards are unnecessary because CERCLA and RCRA already require federal or state agencies to establish appropriate requirements for cleanups on a case-by-case basis. The requirements are, the agency claims, the "functional equivalent" of Clean Air Act emission standards. Yet neither RCRA nor CERCLA require any air emission standards for toxic waste cleanups, much less ensure that such standards will be equivalent to those the Clean Air Act's air toxics provisions would require.

"Communities ultimately pay the price for uncontrolled emission standards with their health and safety," said Nat Mund, clean air specialist with Sierra Club. "On behalf of its polluter friends, the Bush administration has decided jeopardize Americans' health."

"The communities near Superfund sites and nuclear weapons plants have been promised real cleanup," said Lou Zeller, Clean Air Campaign Director for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. "The last thing we need at places like the Savannah River site is a pollution shell game."

The case was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Contacts

Cory Magnus, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500 x235

Annie Strickler, Sierra Club, (202) 487-4493

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.