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EPA Asked to Plug Bush Hazardous Waste Loophole: Impacts NY, NJ and PA

January 30, 2009

New York, NY — Just before leaving office, the Bush Administration ordered a last-minute rule change that deregulated 1.5 million tons of hazardous waste. More than 5,000 recycling facilities, including many in the tri-state area, are expected to take advantage of the loophole, so environmental groups are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to undo the change.

Lisa Evans, an attorney with the law firm EarthJustice, says the change allows companies to practically police themselves, and to ignore federal rules designed to ensure safe storage, transport, treatment and disposal of hazardous waste. Evans has two chief concerns: that the rule change was made without a legally-required assessment of its impact; and that low-income neighborhoods, where such facilities are typically located, are most likely to be affected.

"It's because of the health risks to these communities, and because we are talking about the most hazardous chemicals that we know of - chemicals that cause cancer, and neurological damage."

Evans emphasizes the importance of regulating these chemicals, to keep them tightly contained and not allow their release into the environment. Some hazardous waste disposal companies also oppose the deregulation, saying if the rules aren't in place, they have to compete with operators who cut corners.

The new head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, is from New Jersey. To Evans, this means she's well aware of the dangers of these polluted sites, as well as the cleanup costs they entail.

"In New York, we have eight cases of pollution caused by hazardous waste recycling, at an estimated cost of $15.3 million. In New Jersey, there were 16 cases at an estimated cost of $22.6 million; and in Pennsylvania, there were seven cases of serious pollution with an estimated cost of $12.9 million."

EarthJustice filed the EPA petition yesterday (Thursday) on behalf of the Sierra Club. Since the rule change is already in effect, Evans hopes for swift action from the federal agency's new leadership.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY