For Immediate Release

Jim Pew, Earthjustice: (202) 667-4500 x 214
Jane Williams, Sierra Club: (661) 510-3412
Earthjustice/Sierra Club

New Rule Will Cut Medical Waste Pollution

Lower emissions of dioxins, mercury, lead from incinerators nationwide

WASHINGTON - New rules from the
Environmental Protection Agency will cut toxic air pollution from
medical waste incinerators and eliminate a loophole that allowed
incinerators to exceed pollution limits during startup or malfunctions.

Read the new rule here:
The EPA’s action, taken within months of the appointment of EPA
administrator Lisa Jackson, follows two lawsuits and more than a decade
of advocacy by Earthjustice and the Sierra Club. The rule announced
today will apply to medical waste incinerators nationwide.
The new rule sets significantly stronger standards for medical
waste incinerators’ emissions of mercury, dioxins, lead, and other
dangerous pollutants. Of particular importance, the rule mandates:
  • A significant reduction in the amount of mercury that can be released from incinerators.
  • Enhanced testing of small, rural, medical waste incinerators, resulting in better enforcement in rural communities
  • Significant
    reductions in dioxins, lead and other major pollutants, all of which
    will bring increased health benefits to communities hosting medical
    waste incinerators
In addition, the rule eliminates a loophole that previously
allowed medical waste incinerators to exceed emission limits whenever
they started up, shut down, or malfunctioned.
“The actions taken by EPA today to reduce air pollution in
communities hosting medical waste incinerators is long overdue and
welcomed,” said Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club Air Toxics Task
“EPA’s new Administrator, Lisa Jackson, has taken a big step
toward reducing pollution from medical waste incinerators,” said Jim
Pew, an Earthjustice attorney who handled the cases. “It is a breath of
fresh air, figuratively and literally, that EPA has
taken action that will allow people to breath more easily in towns and
cities across the country.”
Environmental Background
Dioxin is the most potent carcinogen ever evaluated by EPA.
Mercury is known to damage the central nervous systems of unborn babies
and children, resulting in symptoms similar to congenital cerebral
palsy.  Lead is a probable human carcinogen that also
can cause developmental damage in children and babies as well as brain
damage, kidney damage, and damage to the reproductive system. Even
small amounts of these pollutants can cause cancer or similarly tragic
health effects.
Dioxin and mercury both build up in fatty tissue and increase in
concentration as they move up the food chain. A recent U.S. Geological
Survey study found mercury contamination exceeds federal safe levels
for human consumption in one-fourth of freshwater
fish. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated
that 6 percent to 8 percent  of all women of childbearing age are at
risk of bearing children with irreparable birth defects as a result of
mercury contamination in the fish they eat. Even
low levels of mercury exposure in utero or during early childhood can
impair a child's ability to walk, talk, read, write and learn.
In addition to dioxin and mercury, medical waste incinerators emit
several other harmful pollutants such as lead, cadmium, hydrogen
chloride, and soot.
Legal Background
Environmental groups challenged the EPA's 1997 rule for medical
waste incinerators as unlawfully weak. In 1999, the United States Court
of Appeals described the agency’s rulemaking as “hopelessly irrational”
and sent the 1997 rule back to the agency for
change or explanation.
The Bush administration ignored the 1999 court order, forcing
Sierra Club and Earthjustice back to court in 2005 and resulting in a
court ordered deadline. Today’s rule responds to that deadline.

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