EPA Answers to Lawsuits About Incinerator Pollutants

By: Virginia Riddle

Community groups in New Jersey and California are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the overwhelming number of pollutants being emitted from trash incinerators. The suits were filed on January 13 in federal district court in Washington and on December 21 in a Washington appeals court.

The lawsuits stand on the grounds that these incinerators are in violation of the Clean Air Act. This is specifically due to amendments to the law, set in 1990, that require the EPA to abide by set performance standards. The performance standards are updated every five years. This information regarding the violation was reported according to one of the lawsuits.

The groups are advocating for the EPA to update its large incinerator standards, as this has not been done for nearly 10 years. The Ironbound Community Corporation, the Commerce, and the national Sierra Club are plaintiffs of multiple lawsuits looking to change EPA standards and lower the limit of how many pollutants are released into the air.

“We’ve found a consistent pattern of these facilities, many of them old, being sited in environmental justice communities. These lawsuits are important to address that,” said Ana Baptista, an environmental justice expert at The New School in New York and an Ironbound board member.

“Environmental justice” specifically refers to the movement to shield minority communities who are already disproportionally subjected to large amounts of pollution from unnecessary and additional forms of pollution. The movement also works to remedy many causes of pollution that already plague minority communities.

Baptista is a member of the Ironbound Community, a neighborhood that is described as “smelly” and “industrialized” due to a nearby incinerator.

She commented on the state of this incinerator one day: “I saw bright pink smoke coming out of it. At first, I was like, ‘Is this some kind of breast cancer awareness thing they were doing, some kind of sick joke?’

According to Covanta, the company that operates the plant, this color was found to be a result of materials from the Newark Chemical company being burned. The materials had mistakenly contained iodine, giving the smoke a pink hue. The company has since revealed several instances of this mistake in its reports between 2018 and 2020. They claim that they have stopped accepting the material since.

The communities being burdened with the pollutants have gone unnoticed until these suits. While some may claim that the pollution is harmless to them, other experts have known differently even before the lawsuits were brought up. Kirstie Pecci, an environmental attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, opposes the use of incinerators because, “The ash has got dioxin, furans, heavy metals, and all kinds of [other] nasty chemicals in it as well.”

Because of these dangers, the EPA will be forced to face several angry lawsuits of protected communities.

Image Credit: WBOY

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