EPA incinerator regulations are ‘inadequate and unlawful’

The US Court of Appeals has ruled against the US Environmental Protection Agency in a key case, saying that its regulations for incinerators and cement kilns burning hazardous waste are ‘inadequate and unlawful’.

The judges found that the regulations ‘”fail to reflect the emissions achieved in practice by the best-performing sources” as required by the Clean Air Act.

Not-for-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, which filed the suit on
behalf of a leading US environmental organisation, the Sierra Club, felt the
result was critical in the US’s fight for clean air.:
“This is a key victory in the effort to control air toxics” said Attorney James Pew. “The incinerators and cement kilns that burn hazardous waste are among the most dangerous sources of air pollution in existence. But EPA refused to establish the strict controls for these polluters that the Clean Air Act requires. The court’s decision requires EPA to go back and provide the kind of protection that Congress intended Americans to have.”

“Emissions from hazardous waste burners include large quantities of dioxins, mercury, and PCBs,” said Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club’s waste committee. “These pollutants are among the most toxic there are, and they don’t just go away after these polluters have pumped them into the air.”

Hazardous waste incinerators, cement kilns burning hazardous waste as fuel and kilns using hazardous waste to produce specialised concrete burn about 80%
of the hazardous waste combusted in the US annually, emitting over
11,000 tonnes of hazardous air pollutants. These include arsenic, beryllium,
cadmium, carbon monoxide, chlorine, chromium, dioxin, hydrocarbons, lead,
mercury, and particulates.

“All of these HAPs can have serious health effects. Dioxin, mercury, and semi-volatile metal emissions (such lead and cadmium) are of particular concern; exposure can cause effects such as cancer, neurological and organ damage, and impaired child development,” the court noted.

The US Center For Disease Control has found unsafe levels of these pollutants in human test participants. It discovered that in 10% of women tested, mercury is circulating at levels that are potentially unsafe for a developing foetus.

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