A federal appeals court ordered EPA Wednesday to rewrite standards for hazardous waste-burning incinerators and cement kilns, ruling that proper limits are needed on airborne emissions of dioxins, mercury and metals.
The justices ordered the existing standards scrapped saying they, "fail to reflect the emissions achieved in practice by the best-performing sources as required by the Clean Air Act."
EPA will now have to come up with new regulations.
Environmentalists praised the courts ruling calling it a landmark victory for public health and the environment.
Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of the Sierra Club to challenge the EPA over 1999 regulations.
"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," said James Pew, Earthjustice attorney. "The court''s decision requires EPA to go back and provide the kind of protection that Congress intended Americans to have."
More than 230 million tons of hazardous waste are generated by the United States each year and cement makers burn at least 1 million tons of that annually as an alternative to more expensive fuels such as coal, according to industry estimates.
"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. Dioxins, mercury and PCBs settle in our waters, on our crops and in our gardens, and they persist in the environment for decades."
According to EPA, the health threats resulting from exposure to the pollution emitted by hazardous waste burners include cancer, damage to the reproductive system, birth defects and developmental abnormalities, damage to the heart and liver, damage to the immune system, damage to the endocrine system and damage to the respiratory system.
by Virginia Foran