Hazardous Waste Combustors Remain Major Source of Unregulated Toxic Pollution

Lawsuit challenges flawed EPA rule that allows hazardous chemical emissions


James Pew, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500
Marti Sinclair, Sierra Club (513) 761-6140 x28

Hundreds of hazardous waste combustors nationwide will continue to release tons of toxic air pollution each year, thanks to EPA’s failure to regulate them under the strongest protections required by law. Litigation filed today by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Club in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Case No. 05-1441) challenges the agency’s inadequate rule, which does nothing to reduce toxic chemicals like dioxins, mercury, toxic metals and organic hazardous air pollutants.

“EPA has again shown us that reducing toxic air pollution does not register within the agency as a high priority,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. “For the millions of Americans who live near these combustors who are at a higher risk for cancer and other illnesses, reducing overall pollution releases is an unbelievably high priority. If EPA saw this as the threat it truly is, they certainly would have required much stronger emission reductions from these combustors.”

In 1999, Earthjustice successfully challenged a previous hazardous waste combustor rule that did not comply with federal law. EPA’s subsequent proposed rule, issued October 12, again fails to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act by neglecting to address many of the most dangerous pollutants emitted by hazardous waste combustion. EPA has identified hazardous waste combustors as sources that “emit some of the most toxic, bioaccumulative and persistent hazardous air pollutants.” EPA estimates that there are about 145 facilities operating 265 combustors nationwide. Combustors can include hazardous waste burning cement kilns, industrial boilers, lightweight aggregate kilns, and hydrochloric acid furnaces.

“Years ago we learned how bad it was to burn our garbage in our backyards,” said Marti Sinclair, Chair of Sierra Club’s National Air Committee. “We stopped burning, but apparently these combustors did not get the message. While they continue to burn huge amounts of hazardous waste right in our backyards, EPA again fails to require them to reduce the amount of pollution they contribute to nearby communities.”

Earthjustice and Sierra Club have been committed to reducing toxic emissions from a host of industrial polluters such as PVC and plywood manufacturers, cement kilns, power plants, industrial waste incinerators and mobile sources such as cars, buses and trucks. In all of these cases, EPA’s dismissal of federal law, court orders and meaningful pollution reduction have forced conservation, public health and community groups into litigation to seek stronger clean air protections.

“The rules that EPA has proposed for many different industrial facilities are continually inadequate,” Pew said. “Whether it’s a federal court or Congress directing EPA to draft stronger protections against air pollution, the agency just seems to continually ignore these guidelines.” .


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