Decision on Toxic Sewage Sludge Forces EPA to Take Another Look

Agency must review rule to ensure emission reductions


Jessica Hodge, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5201


Jane Williams, Sierra Club Air Toxics Task Force, (661) 256-2101

Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to show that its limits on toxic pollution from sewage sludge incinerators are as protective as the Clean Air Act requires. In particular, the rule fell short because EPA could not show that its rule requires the cleaner emission levels that well controlled incinerators are already achieving.

“Today’s decision sends EPA back to the drawing board. We hope the agency takes it to heart and does a better job next time,” said Jim Pew Earthjustice attorney representing the Sierra Club. “In communities from Palo Alto to Pittsburgh, people must live with these toxic neighbors, and they need the protection that the Clean Air Act was enacted to provide.”

“Sewage sludge incinerators end up burning everything that is flushed into the sewer systems: industrial wastes from small factories, wastes from doctors’ and dentists’ offices, wastes from automotive repair, pesticides, cleaning agents … A Pandora’s box of toxic chemicals end up contaminating sewage sludge, and without proper air pollution controls, all those chemicals go up into the air. Today’s decision says EPA needs to go back and require that all sewage sludge incinerators use the most effective air pollution control technologies to reduce their emissions,” said Jane Williams, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Air Team.

There are over 200 sewage sludge incinerators operating in communities across the U.S. They emit toxic air pollutants like mercury, lead, acid gases, and dioxins and furans from facilities as they burn sewage sludge and industrial waste. The health effects from these pollutants include premature death, cancer, heart attacks, kidney disease, weakened immune systems, developmental delays, and any manner of respiratory problems. These incinerators are typically used to burn semi-solid wastes collected during wastewater treatment, are the sixth largest source of mercury pollution in the U.S.

Read the decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals.

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