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Cleaning Up Sewage Sludge Incinerators

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

What’s at Stake

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.


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.

Case ID



Case Updates

July 20, 2001 | Press Release

Unchecked Incinerator Pollution Underscores Pervasive Problem

While the Environmental Protection Agency flounders with a dysfunctional regulation program for air toxics, unchecked pollution threatens Americans' health. To address EPA's regulatory lapse, Earthjustice filed today the fifth of seven lawsuits against EPA on behalf of Sierra Club.