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Using lax standards, U.S. EPA allows toxic waste incinerators to dump dangerous pollution;
Sierra Club Sues EPA to Protect Families from Airborne Toxics

For immediate release:
November 29, 1999

Neil Carman, Sierra Club, 512-472-1767
Jim Pew, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, 202-667-4500

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In an effort to reduce pollution that causes lung diseases and cancer, the Sierra Club today filed a lawsuit aimed at reducing the amount of harmful chemicals dumped into the air by toxic waste incinerators and waste burning cement kilns.

Although hazardous waste incinerators are among America's most dangerous polluters, the federal government has failed to monitor and control the pollution they release into our air. Because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently released new smokestack standards that continue their lax incineration approach, the Sierra Club has asked a federal appeals court to force the agency to take action to protect people from the release of mercury, dioxin and other dangerous chemicals.

"Toxic waste incinerators foul our air, land and food. These incinerators make it tougher for kids with asthma to breathe, fill our lungs with toxic chemicals, and poison the food we eat," said Dr. Neil Carman, clean air program director of Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter in Texas. "The government has been looking the other way again, letting the toxic waste industry pollute at outrageous levels and then self-monitor their incinerators for violations. Sierra Club's lawsuit will prod the government to wake up and force waste incinerators to stop poisoning our lungs."

In 1990, Congress passed amendments to the Clean Air Act requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set rules to control the amount of pollution emitted by incinerators. By the EPA's own admissions, the standards set by the EPA will allow toxic waste burners even cement kilns and other kilns to continue to emit tons of highly toxic pollution. The rule will do too little to reduce emissions of mercury and fails to set the safest limits on releases of dioxins and other chemicals that cause cancer and other diseases.

Over 200 toxic waste incinerators operate in the U.S., in some cases operating under the disguise of cement kilns and lightweight aggregate kilns. These toxic waste burning kilns are major sources of highly poisonous persistent, bioaccumulative toxins including mercury, carcinogens and particulate matter, small particles that lodge deep in the lungs and cause respiratory disease. Cement kilns can burn large amounts of toxic waste to fuel their enormous energy requirements, and many also burn other waste including iron slag, tires and other materials in addition to coal.

"By allowing excessive limits for mercury emissions, the EPA's rule for reducing pollution from toxic waste incinerators is a slap in the face of the Clinton Administration's Mercury Action Plan," Carman said. "The EPA has failed to live up to President Clinton's promises to make our air cleaner and safer to breathe."

"I don't think that the toxic incineration industry should have a right to poison our air and sacrifice our community," said Sue Pope, a resident of Midlothian, Texas, which is home to the Texas Industries waste burning cement kilns. "Our air has been polluted, our quality of life worsened, our properties devalued and our health compromised. We are not expendable, and the EPA needs to curtail these toxic emissions."

There are more than 200 toxic waste burners across the country. As EPA itself states "[t]hese sources emit some of the most toxic, bioaccumulative and persistent hazardous air pollutants -- among them dioxins, furans, mercury and organic hazardous air pollutants." EPA's hazardous waste burn regulations do not comply with the Clean Air Act's minimum stringency provisions, maximum reduction requirement, or reporting requirements. The EPA's new rules won't do anywhere near enough to bring all toxic waste incinerators up to the reductions that Congress intended when it passed the Clean Air Act."

Sierra Club, which is represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

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