The EPA has decided it will start regulating air pollution emitted from medical waste incinerators. (In other words, the Clean Air Act is actually being strengthened in this case, not weakened). We know, it’s a shocker—take a moment to breathe deeply, then read on.

The rule, which was published in the Federal Registry yesterday and has a 75-day public comment period before it will be finalized, will require medical waste facilities to install filters and scrubbers to capture toxic particulates and gasses emitted from incinerators. Currently incinerators burn 146,000 tons of waste per year (including items like needles, biological waste, and batteries), releasing toxins like mercury and dioxins into the air which then affect nearby communities and ecosystems.

The new regulation comes after an 11-year battle between the EPA and environmental groups like Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Earthjustice first sued the EPA for its weak air pollution standards for waste incinerators in 1997. Under the Bush administration, the EPA dragged its heels for 11 long years until a second lawsuit finally pushed the agency to act.

From The Washington Post:

“'This is the first time I’ve ever seen them to an air toxic rule right,' said Jim Pew, a lawyer at Earthjustice, a Calif.-based environmental advocacy group that sued the agency over its initial proposal for regulating the incinerators more than a decade ago. 'It’s a big cut in emissions.'

The rules represent a significant change from the EPA’s 1997 proposal, which Earthjustice successfully challenged in court on behalf of the Sierra Club. In almost every instance, the agency has reduced the amount of allowable pollutants by at least a factor of 10: Acceptable hydrogen chloride levels will drop from 15 parts per million in the atmosphere to 0.75 per million."

Story by Sarah Parsons. This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008