Americans working in and living near dry cleaners and coal converters known as coke ovens will have a chance to breathe cleaner air, thanks to a settlement agreement in a lawsuit seeking stronger protections against toxic chemical releases. Earthjustice, representing Sierra Club, successfully negotiated a consent decree that requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to complete a review of its air toxics emission standards for coke ovens by March 31, 2005, and for dry cleaners by April 28, 2006.
"This is a victory for every American who lives near a dry cleaner or a coke plant," said Marti Sinclair, chair of Sierra Club's air quality committee. With this decision, EPA is required to review the current rules, determine the risk from these facilities, and ensure that its standards are sufficiently protective of public health.
Emissions from coke ovens, which purify coal for use in the steel making process, are known to cause cancer, and EPA has estimated that they pose a lifetime cancer risk greater than five in ten thousand for the people most exposed. Most dry cleaners often use perchloroethylene, or perc, a suspected cancer-causing pollutant that can cause eye and skin irritation and liver and kidney damage.
The consent decree requires EPA to review its existing emission standard for coke ovens and dry cleaners, determine the health risk from these facilities and, if necessary, set new standards that are sufficient to protect public health with an ample margin of safety. Additionally, the decree requires EPA to assure that its standards reflect the maximum achievable degree of reduction in emissions.
"If EPA's standards do not reflect the maximum achievable reduction in emissions, or if they are not sufficiently protective of public health, the agency must issue stronger standards that are sufficiently protective," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew.
A federal judge in U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, approved the decree January 31.
Jim Pew, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500, x214
Jared Saylor, Earthjustice (202)667-4500, x238
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