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EPA Sued over Inadequate Plywood Air Pollution Rule

Toxic byproducts subject of air pollution lawsuit
September 28, 2004
Washington, DC —

Earthjustice filed a lawsuit today on behalf of the Sierra Club challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's weak standard for toxic air emissions from plywood manufacturing plants. The Natural Resources Defense Council also challenged the rule.

Of particular concern to environmental and public health advocates is EPA's loophole for so called "low risk" sources. The rule allows any source that can meet EPA's definition of "low risk" to avoid taking any steps to control its toxic emissions.

EPA has estimated that its loophole will likely be used by approximately 147 of the 223 plywood plants that are known to be major sources of toxic air pollutants. Plywood manufacturers as a whole emit 18,000 tons of toxic air pollutants each year, including formaldehyde, methanol, acrolein, acetaldehyde, phenol and propionaldehyde. These toxins have been associated with cancer rates, liver and kidney damage, birth defects and adverse reproductive effects.

"EPA's claim that there are any 'low risk' plywood plants in this group is a fraud," said Jane Williams, who chairs the Sierra Cub's National Air Toxics Task Force. "Among other things, the agency is claiming that the cancer risk from many of the toxins that plywood plants emit is zero – even though the agency knows it can't support that claim. EPA admits that lead is a probable human carcinogen but in its risk analysis for this rule, the agency assumes that lead does not pose any cancer risk at all."

"This rule marks a new environmental low for the Bush administration," said Jim Pew, attorney with Earthjustice. "It will allow the wood products industry to emit tons of toxic pollution -- uncontrolled -- into scores of communities across the country. I don't know if the administration is operating in Enron-World or George Orwell-World, but the Environmental Protection Agency obviously fudged its accounts to declare those emissions to be 'risk free'. The agency knows it can't support that claim; it might as well insist that two plus two equals five."

Plywood manufacturers are located throughout the country in California, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin, among other states. They can be found in low-income communities as well as middle class suburbs.

"Because of this loophole, a lot of people are being deprived of the protection that the Clean Air Act was enacted to guarantee. They're going to be exposed to toxins so the Bush administration can deliver a handout to its industry friends," Williams said. The case is Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club vs. EPA, number 04-1323 in the District of Columbia Circuit, US Court of Appeals.

According to a recent poll conducted by the Science and Integrity Working Group, 84% of those interviewed agreed that science should be kept separate from politics. EPA's design on the plywood rule falls far short of public expectations of the importance of unbiased and informed decision making policies. Information on this polling data can be found at http://www.earthjustice.org/news/documents/9-04/science-integrity_Survey.pdf.


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Earthjustice is a non-profit, public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations and communities.

The Sierra Club's members are 700,000 of your friends and neighbors. Inspired by nature, we work together to protect our communities and the planet. The Club is America's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.

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Contacts

Jim Pew, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500

Jane Williams, Sierra Club (661) 510-3412

Jared Saylor at Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500 x 238

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.