EPA Loophole Allows Unchecked Cancer-Causing Pollution

Industrial solvent cleaners release tons of carcinogenic air pollution as federal agency continues to allow them a pass


James Pew, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500

Jeanne K. Clark, PennFuture, (412) 258-6683

Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture) and the Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit today in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit challenging the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) refusal to reduce cancer risks in Collegeville and throughout the nation resulting from the use of highly toxic industrial solvents, including perchloroethylene (perc) and trichloroethylene (TCE).

According to the EPA, TCE exposure is associated with several types of cancer in humans. Breathing TCE can also cause non-cancer health effects ranging from headaches to liver damage. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found that TCE levels in the air in the Collegeville area are significantly higher than elsewhere in the state and put Collegeville and other Montgomery County residents at a higher risk of cancer. DEP has identified the sources of the TCE as Superior Tube and Accellent, the fourth and fifth biggest TCE polluters in the nation.

Despite the documented health risks and the grave concerns of the residents and local leaders, the EPA, which previously had considered tough air pollution controls, reversed itself and ruled on May 3, 2007 that the plants should be permitted to release the toxic solvent without any controls, on the grounds that such controls would not be cost-effective for the plant owners. As concerns have grown, the state agency, DEP, engaged in negotiations with the plants’ owners for a voluntary agreement to cut this toxic air pollution.

“EPA’s decision to ignore the health risks in Collegeville is a blatant violation of federal law,” said James Pew, a lawyer with Earthjustice. “Unfortunately, it’s nothing unusual. Over and over again, this administration has shown that it has no respect for environmental laws and little interest in protecting public health.”

Charles McPhedran, senior attorney for PennFuture, agreed saying, “We will fight EPA in court. While doing that, we urge DEP to order reductions at the Collegeville-area plants so that neighbors know there is an end to this toxic threat.”

“Hundreds of our 10,000 area members are put at risk by these emissions,” said Dennis Winters, Conservation Chair of the Sierra Club’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Group. “We are not surprised that the EPA has not acted to protect Montgomery County residents living around these facilities, but we expect more from our own Department of Environmental Protection.”

PennFuture is a statewide public interest membership organization that advances policies to protect and improve the state’s environment and economy. PennFuture’s activities include litigating cases before regulatory bodies and in local, state and federal courts, advocating and advancing legislative action on a state and federal level, public education and assisting citizens in public advocacy.

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