EPA Proposes Weak Rule for Plywood Manufacturing Facilities

EPA must strengthen its rule to fully protect people from toxic formaldehyde and other cancer-linked toxics


Zahra Ahmad, zahmad@earthjustice.org, (517) 898-0924

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week failed to propose a strong rule reducing harmful air emissions from plywood and composite wood manufacturing facilities, despite the severe health risks they pose, such as cancer. The rule would update the regulation of carcinogenic and other dangerous emissions from over 200 facilities that are currently unchecked.

EPA unveiled the rule on May 8.

“After nearly 20 years without requiring basic controls on composite wood manufacturing processes, communities were expecting more than standards that in many cases still result in zero reductions in hazardous air pollution,” said Earthjustice attorney Kathleen Riley.

Composite wood manufacturing facilities bind wood and other materials by heating glues and resins. This process releases highly toxic emissions, such as formaldehyde, a carcinogen that causes respiratory ailments and worsens asthma. These facilities disproportionately neighbor communities of color and low-income communities in Southern and Southeastern states.

In the 2000s the EPA proposed a set of standards that didn’t require controls or pollution reductions for several wood manufacturing processes. A federal court rejected those standards in 2007. After EPA failed to fix problems in new standards set in 2020, Earthjustice sued the agency on behalf of Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and Sierra Club, and petitioned the EPA to reconsider the standards.

However, these new proposed standards reduce toxic pollution from plywood facilities by less than 8%. EPA must significantly strengthen the regulations, including by setting numeric limits on emissions rather than relying on work practices to reduce these facilities’ harmful emissions.

EPA will be receiving public comments on the rule, and it is required to finalize the rule in November per a consent decree.

Quotes from our clients and partners:

“These facilities emit hazardous air pollutants that have been uncontrolled effectively for decades.  Communities hosting these facilities bear the brunt of exposure to these toxic emissions, and they are long overdue to have the protections of the Clean Air Act work to reduce these dangerous emissions in their neighborhoods,” said Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics.

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