Congress Wants More Disclosure on Hazardous Waste Burning Proposal

New rule would allow over 100,000 tons of hazardous waste to be burned without proper safeguards


Ben Dunham, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500
Lisa Evans, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500

A plan by the Environmental Protection Agency would reclassify over 100,000 tons of hazardous waste, allowing many companies to use this waste as fuel rather than handle it as dangerous hazardous waste. The result is that many companies will burn this waste onsite, instead of sending it to a strictly controlled hazardous waste incinerator. Twenty-five members of Congress today will send a letter to EPA calling for further study of the environmental and health impacts and a more open public evaluation of the polluter-friendly plan.

Ninety percent of the companies that would now be able to burn this hazardous waste onsite have been identified by EPA as needing “corrective action” for not fully complying with existing federal hazardous waste management regulations.

Representatives Mark Kirk (R-IL), Hilda L. Solis (D-CA), along with 23 other members of Congress, will send a letter today to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, asking that the Agency complete a full assessment of the environmental problems associated with the proposed rulemaking.

“The Environmental Protection Agency needs to change course on its proposal to increase the burning of deregulated hazardous waste by more than 100,000 tons per year,” Congressman Kirk said. “The communities that would see increases in toxic pollutants were not notified until after the EPA comment period ended. This is particularly alarming, given that the EPA’s own best-case estimates indicate the waste could release more pollutants than the combustion of fossil fuels. The 86 communities affected nationwide have a right to voice their concerns to this plan.” 

When EPA introduced the proposed rule this June, they neglected to disclose important information about the amount of waste proposed to be burned at 86 facilities across the country.

“By failing to reveal information about the location of facilities likely to burn hazardous waste, the EPA knowingly denied communities the chance to comment. Communities such as those in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley deserve an opportunity to participate in the process, particularly when their health and their environment are at risk,” said Congresswoman Solis. “I urge the EPA to re-open this comment period and hope they will listen closely to the concerns of environmental justice communities across this country.”

Communities surrounding these facilities were not informed, and it was not until Earthjustice attorneys filed a Freedom of Information Act request that EPA finally divulged the data.

Hazardous waste contains extremely dangerous levels of toxic chemicals. This rule could expose tens of thousands of Americans to carcinogens and other toxins, putting them at unnecessary risk for cancer, heart and lung disease and other health impacts. For example, the rule allows waste containing unlimited amounts of highly toxic chemicals such as benzene, toluene and acrolein to be stored, transported and burned as fuel without the stringent safeguards imposed on hazardous waste.

“In issuing the proposed rule, however, the EPA never made available the exact facilities expected to handle and dispose of the deregulated waste,” the letter from Congress states. “This information was released only after the comment period ended. The communities surrounding these eighty-six facilities were unaware that the rule would directly affect them and should be allowed to comment in light of this new information.”

“The gamble that EPA is taking with people’s lives to make it easier for companies to burn more hazardous waste is simply wrong,” said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans. “EPA itself freely admits that they cannot guarantee burning this waste will have little or no adverse impact.”

The so-called “emission-comparable fuels” rule is another EPA discretionary rulemaking in a long line of free passes for polluters. In 2006, the U.S. District Court of Appeals found that EPA routinely neglects its duty to protect public health and the environment, and instead, “devotes substantial resources to discretionary rulemakings, many of which make existing regulations more congenial to industry.” In 2005, the Office of Management and Budget gave EPA its marching orders by publishing a list of regulatory rollbacks sought by industry. The Association of Manufacturers and the American Chemistry Council had put this relaxed hazardous waste burning regulation at the top of their wish list.

“For years, the Bush administration has been handing out these regulatory rollbacks like they were Thanksgiving turkeys,” said Ben Dunham, Associate Legislative Counsel for Earthjustice. “Congress is now stepping up and saying ‘Enough!’ Representatives Kirk and Solis recognize that when the EPA allows more pollution, their constituents are forced to bear the burden.”

Of the 86 facilities that would burn hazardous waste onsite, nearly 90 percent are presently subject to a corrective action under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Moreover, human exposure to contamination is classified as “not under control” at many of these facilities, meaning many people may be currently “exposed to environmental contamination at unacceptable levels,” according to EPA.

EPA documents revealed that under the proposed regulatory rollback, the Clean Harbors Baltimore facility in Baltimore, MD, will store and transport 2,077 tons of hazardous waste without complying with the stringent storage, labeling and transport requirements that apply to handling of hazardous waste; the Systech Environmental Corporation in Paulding, OH, will store and transport 10,450 tons of hazardous waste without complying with hazardous waste handling safeguards; and the Safety Kleen Systems facility in Dolton, IL, just south of Chicago, will burn 1,786 tons of additional hazardous waste annually in boilers not permitted to burn hazardous waste.

Click here for more information about the other 83 facilities that will handle and burn deregulated hazardous waste, and to see a detailed map of the United States where these facilities are located.

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