Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (“PEER”) and the Energy Justice Network recently filed a with EPA requesting that the Agency require companies to disclose the chemicals discharged from waste incinerators and facilities that recycle plastics (“advanced recycling facilities”). Currently, none of the approximately 400 incinerators and advanced recycling facilities throughout the nation are required to report their facility’s toxic chemical emissions under EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory Program (“TRI”). TRI data provides local communities with information about toxic chemical releases and management activities in their area.
Petitioners argue that waste incinerators are among the largest local air polluters and that the public is entitled to information about these emissions; therefore, they should be TRI data. One particular concern expressed in the petition is that ash generated from the incineration of solid and industrial waste can contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals, including lead and mercury. Additionally, according to petitioners, incineration does not destroy per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”). Therefore, petitioners assert that when incinerator ash is placed on top of landfills, as it often is, the contaminants can then travel into communities contaminating local air, water, and soil.
Petitioners have also included advanced recycling facilities in their request for required TRI reporting. Advanced recycling facilities, also called chemical recycling facilities, are categorized by EPA as incinerators. These facilities heat waste, generally plastics, to create a fuel product. While EPA has released a proposed rulemaking to approve the products as renewable fuels, the Agency is also facing litigation for approving a renewable fuel associated with a high cancer risk. Petitioners have the same concerns about emissions from the advanced recycling facilities reaching local communities.
This April’s petition is not the environmental organizations’ first attempt to discuss the matter with EPA; petitioners sent a letter to EPA last October highlighting their health concerns related to incineration.