Cleaning Up Sewage Sludge Incinerators

There are over 200 sewage sludge incinerators operating in communities across the United States. The health effects from pollutants emitted by the incinerators include premature death, cancer, heart attacks, kidney disease, weakened immune systems, developmental delays, and any manner of respiratory problems.


James Pew

Regional Office / Program

Case Overview

The federal government has made every effort to avoid setting clean air standards for the nation’s 218 sewage sludge incinerators (SSIs), which burn a witch’s brew of dirty wastes: pesticides, medical waste, industrial by-products and discarded materials from auto shops, for example.

The Bush administration tried to exempt SSIs from the Clean Air Act entirely. Earthjustice sued and won, which forced the government to issue standards. But in 2010, the Obama EPA released woefully weak emission limits that would have done little if implemented to actually protect communities from emissions of mercury, lead, cancer-causing dioxins and other pollutants from SSIs.

Earthjustice went to court again and in 2013, a federal judge sided with Earthjustice and sent EPA’s weak standards back to the agency with the admonition to make them more protective.

A child suffers from asthma.
There are over 200 sewage sludge incinerators operating in communities across the U.S. The health effects from the toxic air pollutants they emit include premature death, cancer and respiratory problems. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

Case Updates

January 29, 2015 Press Release

Public Housing Tenants Object to Sewage Sludge Incinerator at Port of Albany

Call NY State’s failure to inform community of proposed permit and lack of environmental review “shameful”

January 29, 2015 document

Letter to DEC on Sewage Sludge Incinerator

Re: DEC's Failure to Comply With Environmental Justice Policy, CP-29 Albany County Sewage District Draft Title V Permit

August 21, 2013 Press Release

Decision on Toxic Sewage Sludge Forces EPA to Take Another Look

Agency must review rule to ensure emission reductions