For Immediate Release
Sam Edmondson, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700, ext. 6705
EPA Cracks Down on Toxic Air Pollution
New rules will dramatically cut toxic air pollution, but potential exemptions leave many communities vulnerable
WASHINGTON - Three years after environmental groups blocked the Bush
administration’s attempt to deregulate toxic emissions from industrial
incinerators, boilers and process heaters, the Obama administration has proposed strong new replacement rules
today. The new rules will substantially reduce emissions of hazardous
air pollutants and the risk of serious health effects like cancer,
reproductive disorders, and birth defects in communities across the
The rules will require significant pollution reductions at an
estimated 14,000 boilers at 1,600 facilities, and are expected to
prevent between 2,000 and 5,000 premature deaths every year, 1,300
chronic bronchitis cases, 3,200 hospital emergency room visits, 33,000
cases of aggravated asthma and 70,000 missed days of work. The rules
will cut hundreds of tons of toxic metals emitted by industrial boilers
and process heaters including emissions of lead, arsenic, and chromium,
all of which are associated with cancer and other serious adverse
health effects. They will also reduce nationwide emissions of mercury –
an extremely potent neurotoxin that can cause developmental defects in
unborn babies and young children – by 8 tons per year, approximately 75
"These reductions are excellent news for communities across the
country," said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. "The toxic pollution
from these uncontrolled boilers has gone on for far too long, and EPA
Administrator Lisa Jackson has shown a real commitment to public health
by acting to clean them up at last."
"Emission reductions at boilers and incinerators are an important
environmental justice victory because they will reduce toxic air
pollution in communities where the impacts are most severe," said Jane
Williams, chair of the Sierra Club’s Air Toxics Taskforce.
"This is a positive development, especially for students at the more
than 60 colleges that still have coal boilers on campus. The
requirement to clean up these aging boilers provides even greater
incentive for transitioning to cleaner energy options that will really
benefit the students and the surrounding communities," said Kim
Teplitzky who leads the Sierra Club’s Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign.
EPA also proposed a related rule to define non-hazardous solid
waste. Industry groups have long pushed for a narrow definition rule
that would allow thousands of facilities that burn spent chemicals and
solvents, scrap tires, scrap plastics, industrial sludges, and used oil
to avoid pollution control requirements. Although today’s proposal
would limit this loophole to facilities that burn their own wastes on
site, it is likely that thousands of such facilities are currently
operating. The proposal would allow these facilities to emit toxic
pollution without limit and would prevent citizens from learning either
the identity or quantity of the toxins to which they are exposed.
"We are deeply concerned that EPA has not scrapped this Bush-era loophole altogether," said Pew.
However, EPA left open the possibility that it will change course and close the loophole.
"EPA is now at a crossroads," said Eric Schaeffer, director of the
Environmental Integrity Project. "The agency can move forward to
protect all the communities that face toxic pollution from waste
burning or it can return to a Bush-era policy of granting pollution
control exemptions at the cost of families’ safety. We know this
Administrator understands communities’ need for protection from toxic
pollution and we are confident she will get the final decision right."
"Today’s rules promise to be among the most protective,
cost-effective clean air rules adopted by the Obama EPA," said John
Walke, Clean Air Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"To be sure, the rules need strengthening in places to satisfy the law
and public health needs; but EPA deserves credit for cutting dangerous
air pollution and making us all safer."
Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.