Late Wednesday, the Sierra Club represented by Earthjustice, joined by Natural Resources Defense Council, filed a motion to enter the case and defend the Obama administration rule.
"Hospitals and medical centers should be at the forefront of efforts to protect public health," said Katie Renshaw of Earthjustice, who filed the motion. "The new rules on toxic air pollution from medical waste incinerators will save lives."
Marti Sinclair, Chair of Sierra Club's Clean Air Team commented, "In Florida, we have seen how strong toxic air regulations work in the real world. Rule changes forced reductions in mercury emissions from South Florida's medical waste incinerators. Today, mercury levels in the Everglades' birds and fish have plummeted by 75 percent. The jury is in: Reducing toxic air pollution protects both people and wildlife."
The new rule reduces medical waste incinerators' emissions of mercury, dioxins, lead, and other dangerous pollutants by 393,000 lbs per year. Additionally, the rule mandates:
In addition, the rule eliminates a loophole that previously allowed medical waste incinerators to exceed emission limits whenever they started up, shut down, or malfunctioned.
Dioxin is the most potent carcinogen ever evaluated by EPA. Mercury is known to damage the central nervous systems of unborn babies and children, resulting in symptoms similar to congenital cerebral palsy. Lead is a probable human carcinogen that also can cause developmental damage in children and babies as well as brain damage, kidney damage, and damage to the reproductive system. Even small amounts of these pollutants can cause cancer or similarly tragic health effects. In addition to dioxin, mercury, and lead, medical waste incinerators emit several other harmful pollutants such as cadmium, hydrogen chloride, and soot.
Environmental groups challenged the EPA's 1997 rule for medical waste incinerators as unlawfully weak. In 1999, the United States Court of Appeals described the agency's rulemaking as "hopelessly irrational" and sent the 1997 rule back to the agency for change or explanation. The Bush administration ignored the 1999 court order, forcing Sierra Club and Earthjustice back to court in 2005 and resulting in a court-ordered deadline that was met by the Obama administration in September 2009.
Katie Renshaw, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500 x 220
Colin O'Brien, Natural Resources Defense Counsel, (202) 289-2426
Jane Williams, Sierra Club, (661) 510-3412