Earthjustice today filed the first of seven lawsuits challenging the federal government’s chronic failure to protect Americans from the health hazards of toxic air pollution. The defendant is the very agency tasked with providing such protection: the Environmental Protection Agency. The plaintiff is Sierra Club. To compel EPA to do its job, Earthjustice will file one lawsuit each day for the next week.
All seven lawsuits address EPA’s failure to establish controls for such highly toxic air pollutants as dioxins, PCBs, and mercury ¾ pollutants that even in tiny doses can cause devastating health effects.
Today’s lawsuit challenges EPA’s failure to promulgate regulations to control the emission of hazardous air pollutants from approximately 80 different industrial categories. The facilities in these categories are “major” polluters under the Clean Air Act, which means that each year each facility can emit more than ten tons of one hazardous air pollutant or more than 25 tons of any combination of hazardous air pollutants. The “major” polluter categories that EPA has failed to regulate run the gamut from steel plants to semiconductor plants.
Congress gave EPA ten years to complete its regulation of major sources of hazardous air pollutants. One quarter of the regulations were due by 1994, one half by 1997, and the entire process was to be completed by 2000. EPA has missed all of the deadlines, including the last.
“That EPA has missed a slew of Clean Air Act deadlines is symptomatic of its inadequate efforts to control hazardous air pollutants,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. “First, EPA consistently fails to meet its statutory deadlines for promulgating regulations to control hazardous air pollutants. Second, when the agency finally does issue the required regulations, they’re far weaker than the law requires. Third, even those weak regulations aren’t effectively enforced. EPA is not implementing the Clean Air Act’s toxics provisions the way Congress intended, and that’s a serious problem for public health.”
The most recent data from the National Air Toxics Assessment show that the vast majority of Americans are breathing hazardous air pollutants above levels considered safe by EPA. The Center For Disease Control has found unsafe levels of these pollutants present in human test participants. For example, CDC found that in 10 percent of the women tested, mercury is circulating at levels that are potentially unsafe for a developing fetus.
“While EPA delays in controlling these toxic emissions,” points out Dr. Bob Palzer, chair of Sierra Club’s Air Committee, “people are being exposed unnecessarily to extremely dangerous poisons. Many of the uncontrolled pollutants are a triple threat. Not only are they toxic in the air, but they also fall back to earth where they contaminate the environment for decades and poison our food and water.”
On behalf of Sierra Club, Earthjustice filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
For more information, contact Suzanne Carrier of Earthjustice (202-667-4500) or Bob Palzer, Ph.D. of Sierra Club (541-482-2492).