Sierra Club: EPA Should Close Haz-Waste Loopholes

The Sierra Club is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s case about hazardous waste.

Writing in Treehugger last week, Sarah Hodgdon, the Club’s Director of Conservation, says with the EPA “currently reconsidering their hazardous waste standards” under its Regulatory Review and Reform Initiative. Now is the time keep the pressure on the agency for stronger standards. It’s also time to close Bush Administration loopholes that apparently make it easy for unlicensed operators to dump waste in low income communities.

The loopholes, 11th-hour rules passed by the Bushies on their way out the door, “let polluters around the country exploit our neighborhoods, turning over hazardous waste to unlicensed fly-by-night contractors, now free to dump truckloads of poison-filled waste drums and tanks,” Hodgdon says.

It gets worse, she continues. “According to the EPA these hazardous waste sites are more likely to be located in our nation’s lowest income communities and near the homes of people of color. Our friends at Earthjustice found similar results: People of color are twice as likely as white individuals to live within two miles of a hazardous waste facility. Low-income individuals are 1.5 times as likely as moderate- or high-income individuals to live within two miles of a hazardous waste facility.

“Just look at Chicago, where the EPA says hazardous waste recycling by industrial facilities in two southeastern Chicago zip codes (60617 and 60633) has caused dangerous exposure to toxic chemicals.”

In those two zip codes there are 13 sites that have required clean up under EPA’s Superfund program, Hodgdon writes. “According to the most recent available Census data, the residents of 60617 are 77% people of color, and the residents of 60633 are 34% people of color.”

“Sierra Club is working closely with the environmental justice organizations in the neighborhoods Pilsen, Little Village and in Southeast Chicago to protect their communities from pollution from coal-fired power plants, coal gasification plants and coal-fired cement kilns,” says Becki Clayborn, a Sierra Club organizer in Chicago. “These neighborhoods are disproportionately affected – or dumped on – in many different ways.”

She adds there are currently as many as 23 industries in those zip codes that EPA has exempted from hazardous waste controls, and “these sites therefore may currently be operating under federal hazardous waste recycling exclusions. Consequently, these facilities may recycle hazardous materials without proper safety precautions, including proper containment of hazardous materials.

“EPA must close the gap in federal regulations that allows companies to recycle hazardous materials without adequate safeguards.”

Sierra Club is urging EPA to do more, including:

  • Require permitting for all hazardous waste recycling activities.
  • Require adequate and enforceable standards for storage of hazardous waste to prevent releases.
  • Require transparency and reporting. Communities should know the quantity and identity of hazardous waste that is stored and recycled in their communities and what safeguards are being taken to prevent releases.
  • Require safety in transport of hazardous waste. Hazardous waste destined for recycling must not be exempted from the regulations that apply to other shipments of hazardous waste.
  • Require regular inspection of hazardous waste recycling facilities.
  • Establish enforceable criteria for legitimate recycling. EPA must prohibit “sham recycling” (illegal disposal of hazardous waste in the guise of recycling) by requiring hazardous waste recyclers to submit documentation that their recycling activities are legitimate.

More than two years later the Bush mess still needs extensive cleanup. The good news is that it’s happening; the bad news is that it’s taking a really long time.


[Image Credit: Earthjustice]

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