Federal Court Throws Out Weak PVC Standards

States and local community groups will now have more say in controlling toxic chemical releases


James Pew, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500 x214

Edgar Mouton, Mossville Environmental Action Now (337) 496-7909

Marti Sinclair, Sierra Club (513) 674-1983

A decision from the United States Court of Appeals For The District of Columbia Circuit ended with an important win for citizens seeking protection from the highly toxic chemicals emitted by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plants. There are 27 PVC plants located in the following states: Louisiana, New Jersey, Texas, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, California, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Florida.

The citizens groups Mossville Environmental Action Network (MEAN) and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, had challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s emission standards for PVC plants ¾ standards that provided absolutely no toxic emission reductions from PVC plants, even though the agency itself concluded in 1998 that these emissions “may reasonably be anticipated to result in an increase in mortality or an increase in serious, irreversible, or incapacitating reversible illness.”

“This decision gives people in the communities near PVC plants a breath of fresh air,” said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. “EPA will now have to write a new rule from scratch and, this time, it will have to do a better job.”

PVC plants emit large quantities of vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen, as well as dioxins, toxic metals such as chromium and lead, and hydrogen chloride, a highly corrosive acid. EPA’s now-discarded rule had merely readopted 1970s-era standards for vinyl chloride, and included no standards for other hazardous air pollutants.

“The federal court did the right thing,” said Edgar Mouton, President of Mossville Environmental Action Now. “In Mossville, Louisiana, we have suffered as a result of EPA’s failure to establish a protective standard decades ago.” Mossville is home to 300 residents and 14 industrial facilities, including a PVC facility located near Lake Charles.

The State air officials responsible for overseeing PVC plant operations had informed EPA during the rulemaking process that the agency’s rule was woefully inadequate, but EPA dismissed their concerns.

“The court’s found that EPA’s ‘just do nothing’ response to deadly emissions from PVC-plastics plants was just dead wrong,” said Marti Sinclair, Air Quality Committee Chair for Sierra Club. “EPA has the opportunity to redeem itself by acting quickly to extend the protection of the Clean Air Act to affected communities.”

Last June, the Court threw out EPA’s rule after finding that the agency had failed to set emission standards for all the hazardous air pollutants that PVC plants emit and that the agency’s claim that re-imposing the decades-old emissions standard for vinyl chloride alone would somehow prove adequate to control vinyl chloride, lead dioxin, chromium, and all other toxic pollutants was just not credible.

In October, EPA petitioned for rehearing requesting that the Court merely send the PVC rule back for further analysis and explanation, instead of throwing it out altogether. In today’s ruling, the Court rejected EPA’s request, and affirmed its decision to vacate the rule in its entirety. This decision will offer states and community groups a chance to participate in the drafting of a new rule regarding PVC plant emissions.

PVC is used in a variety of plastic products including pipes, insulation for electric wiring, raincoats and seat covers. Without strong controls, however, the plants that manufacture PVC itself release a bouquet of poisonous chemicals into neighboring communities. Vinyl chloride, one of the main pollutants released is known to cause cancer. Dioxins, chromium, lead, chlorine, and hydrogen chloride – all of which are also released from vinyl chlorine plants – are associated with a wide variety of serious adverse health effects including cancer and reproductive damage as well as damage to the nose, throat and lungs.

There are six PVC plants in Louisiana; one plant each in Mississippi, California, Florida, New York, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania; five plants in Texas; four plants in New Jersey; three plants in Delaware; two plants in Illinois; and two plants in Kentucky. A list of these facility locations is available here.

In other news, EPA’s failure to establish protective emission standards for chlor alkali facilities creates a conflict with international efforts to protect public health and the environment. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, an international treaty signed by the United States in 2001, requires in part the reduction of harmful toxins that are released into the environment by chlor alkali manufacturers and other industries. An international study released today shows that eggs from free-range chickens collected from the United States in the Mossville community have significantly harmful levels of these toxins. The study, which involved the testing of chicken eggs from 40 countries, is available here.

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