Earthjustice today secured a landmark victory for public health and the environment pertaining to critical clean air standards. In its ruling today, the United States Court of Appeals struck down as inadequate and unlawful EPA regulations for incinerators and cement kilns that burn hazardous waste. Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of the Sierra Club in 1999 to challenge the EPA regulations.
“This is a key victory in the effort to control air toxics,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. “The incinerators and cement kilns that burn hazardous waste are among the most dangerous sources of air pollution in existence. But EPA refused to establish the strict controls for these polluters that the Clean Air Act requires. The Court’s decision requires EPA to go back and provide the kind of protection that Congress intended Americans to have.”
“Emissions from hazardous waste burners include large quantities of dioxins, mercury, and PCBs,” said Jane Williams, chair of Sierra Club’s Waste Committee. “These pollutants are among the most toxic there are, and they don’t just go away after these polluters have pumped them into the air. Dioxins, mercury and PCBs settle in our waters, on our crops and in our gardens, and they persist in the environment for decades. Worse yet, they accumulate dramatically in the food chain and poison our food. Thanks to emissions from hazardous waste burners and plants like them, many women and children in America already are facing serious health risks.”
According to EPA, the health threats resulting from exposure to the pollution emitted by hazardous waste burners include cancer, damage to the reproductive system, birth defects and developmental abnormalities, damage to the heart and liver, damage to the immune system, damage to the endocrine system, and damage to the respiratory system.
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.