EPA Toxics Rules Lag behind 10 Years

by | Jun 29, 2010

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not met any of the key requirements set by a report released ten years ago to reduce health risks from toxic emissions in urban areas, according to a new report by the agency’s inspector general. The plan called for the agency to establish new rules and to deliver updated risk assessments for all smaller (area) pollution sources such as cars, dry cleaners and gas stations.

The EPA has not developed emission standards for all smaller source categories or submitted a second report to Congress, due in 2002, identifying urban areas that continue to experience significant public health risks from air toxics exposures, according to the report (PDF).

Ten years after issuing the 1999 Integrated Urban Air Toxics Strategy, the inspector general says the EPA has still not implemented key activities outlined in the strategy such as establishing baseline risk data to measure progress in reducing air toxics risks, which also means that the agency has not tracked progress in meeting its strategy goals.

EPA’s last risk assessment, based on 2002 data, estimated that 1 in every 28,000 people could develop cancer from air toxics exposure, and that 2 million Americans live in areas with lifetime cancer risks from air toxics in excess of 1 in 10,000.

The report concludes that the EPA should reassess and update its approach to addressing urban air toxics including the submission of the required second report to Congress which should include a list of urban areas that continue to experience high or unacceptable levels of risk.

The EPA cites a lack of funding as part of the reason for moving toxics behind air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter (PM), as a priority.

Still, the EPA moved ahead with some programs to monitor toxics. As an example, in March 2009, the EPA, said the agency and its state partners would measure levels of toxic air pollution near many schools, especially for schools located near large industries and in urban areas.

Funding for air toxics fell by more than 70 percent between fiscal 2001 and 2009, according to the report.

In a written response to the inspector general’s report, the EPA said the Obama administration requested an $18.7 million budget increase next year for EPA’s air quality and toxics management program, which received $202.2 million for the current fiscal year, according to the newspaper.

The EPA said it will provide an updated risk assessment report this summer using emissions data from 2005 and will submit its report on hotspots to Congress by next summer.

In addition, the agency expects to meet its court-mandated deadline to issue three separate emissions standards for industrial boilers, institutional and commercial boilers, and sewer sludge incineration, meeting its requirements “a little over ten years after the original deadline,” according to the inspector general.

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