The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext 237

Environmental Justice Advocates Testify: Repeal Bush-Era Hazardous Waste Loophole

Rule deregulates 1.5 million tons of toxic waste, puts low-income and communities of color at increased risk


Environmental justice advocates from around the country traveled
to Arlington, Virginia today to ask the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency to repeal a Bush-era hazardous waste loophole and restore
safeguards to prevent toxic spills and contamination.

The rule, which went into effect in the closing days of the last
administration, stripped federal oversight of recyclers who handle 1.5
million tons of hazardous waste generated by steel, chemical,
pharmaceutical and other industrial companies each year.

As the maps here show,
these hazardous waste recyclers are located predominantly in low-income
communities and communities of color. Concerned about the increased
risk these communities now face, environmental justice advocates
testified at today's EPA public hearing at the agency's headquarters.

Cancer survivor Sheila Holt-Orsted made the trip from her
cancer-riddled community in Dixon County, Tennessee, where the nearby
county landfill was home to toxic waste dumping.

"I showed up today so that EPA could put a face to this issue," said
Holt-Orsted, who has seen her mother, father, sister, cousins, aunts,
and uncles suffer from cancer and other illnesses believed to be caused
by the nearby contamination. "I'm concerned that this rule may endanger
the health and environment that our country's hazardous waste laws were
designed to protect. I don't want any other community to suffer as my
family has suffered."

Advocates are closely watching the administration's response, saying
it represents the first test of the new EPA's approach toward
environmental policies which burden low income and communities of color.

"We should not forget that some 27 years ago, the environmental
justice movement was born after a sham recycler dumped PCB-laced oils
along the roads in North Carolina which eventually ended up in a
majority African-American community," said Dr. Robert Bullard, director
of Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark University, and
author of Dumping In Dixie: Race, Class, And Environmental Quality.
"This new rule puts in jeopardy many of the communities we have found
to be disproportionately burdened by environmental contamination."

The rule specifically applies to hazardous waste recyclers --
already acknowledged by EPA to be a notoriously unstable and dangerous
industry: recent EPA studies identify hundreds of contaminated sites
from hazardous waste recycling operations in 38 states, including more
than 100 Superfund sites, totaling more than $436 million in cleanup
costs. (Regional maps detailing the location of these Superfund sites
with corresponding socio-economic data are here. The EPA study summary is here. A state-by-state table is here. Detailed site profiles are here)

"This loophole represents the largest hazardous waste rollback since
the passage of laws protecting the public from hazardous waste in
1976," said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans, who filed a lawsuit
in federal court in January challenging the midnight rulemaking by the
Bush administration. "Before this change, these facilities had to
follow strict rules designed to keep communities safe: closely tracking
hazardous waste, storing it in clearly-labeled, airtight and leak-proof
containers. But not any more."

EPA officials have acknowledged that the Bush rule change was a
hasty one. In the rush to finalize it, the officials failed to fully
comply with the law: the new rule violates a Clinton-era executive
order requiring federal agencies to address the adverse human health or
environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on
communities of color and low-income populations.

"This rule would redistribute extremely harmful toxic substances to
places where oversight is lax or nonexistent," said Vernice
Miller-Travis, vice chair of the Maryland Commission on Environmental
Justice and Sustainable Communities. "This is a critical issue. The
health of thousands of communities across the country hangs in the

The hazardous waste that will slip through this loophole contains
such dangerous chemicals as solvents, such as benzene, toluene, TCE and
perchlorate that cause cancer, birth defects, lupus and immune
disorders; and metals such as lead, hexavalent chromium, mercury and
arsenic -- which are potent neurotoxins and carcinogens.

"There is no principled basis to relax these hazardous waste
regulations," said Jan Schlichtmann, founder of The Civil Action Center
and the attorney who John Travolta's character in the feature-length
film A Civil Action was based on. "If anyone thinks we should go back
to a time of less hazardous waste regulation, they should speak to the
parents in the cities of Woburn, Massachusetts and Toms River, New
Jersey, where contaminants polluted the city drinking water and caused
a leukemia epidemic of biblical proportions."

More than 5,600 facilities involved in hazardous waste recycling are
expected to take advantage of the loophole -- which the government
estimates will save each facility about $17,000 a year.

Additional Resources:

For background documents, including a 2007 EPA study summarizing
problems with hazardous waste recycling operations, a map of hazardous
waste facilities with bad track records, and a state-by-state table of
polluted hazardous waste recycling sites, please visit:

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