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A Note From Our Chapter Chair
Breathe a little easier! - March 2024 Newsletter

Susan Eastwood

March 2024

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Image: A blue sky with clouds by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

Happy Spring!

 

There’s a lot going on this month, and even more leading up to Earth Day! Sierra Club Connecticut will be tabling at conferences and Earth Day celebrations all over the state. Be sure to check our Events and Outings page to see what’s happening in your neck of the woods.

 

On March 15, join us for Climate and Environment Advocacy Day at the Capitol. This is an important opportunity to make your support for the environment known to your legislators. See more ideas on “What More Can I Do About Climate Change” in Steve Lewis’ article this month.

 

Good news for Air Quality!

 

On February 8, 2024, the EPA announced their final ruling on tightening the air quality standards for soot (particulate matter PM2.5), addressing a dangerous and deadly air pollutant responsible for over 100,000 deaths in the United States every year. 

 

EPA’s final air quality standards for soot lowers the annual standards from 12 micrograms per cubic meter (mcg/m3) to 9 mcg/m3, and will prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths and 290,000 lost workdays per year while bringing as much as $46 billion in net health benefits in 2032, when the standards are in full effect. 

 

Although we celebrate this success, there is more to be done. The new standards, while 25% better than before, are still much higher than the World Health Organization’s recommended limits of 5 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over the year. Also, the EPA failed to tighten the allowable daily standards despite the fact that many sources of pollution emit inconsistently, or for short periods. 

 

Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous said, “We’re glad to see the Biden Administration answered the call to reduce harmful soot pollution. The decision to strengthen the annual particulate matter standards is more than just policy; it's about securing clean and safe air for our families and communities. It's about keeping kids in school, and protecting ourselves and our neighbors from the very real risks of asthma, heart attacks, and premature death.” (Learn more in the Sierra Club press release.)

Sierra Club (National and many Chapters, including ours) testified last winter in favor of stricter standards on particulate matter. (Learn more in the March 2023 Q article, Tell EPA to Set Strong Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter.”)

 

Ongoing work to clean up our air!

Currently, the EPA is seeking comments on their proposed standards for air pollution from waste incinerators: Large Municipal Waste Combustors (LMWC): New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and Emissions Guidelines | US EPA, Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OAR–2017–0183.

 

Sierra Club supports the proposed amendments to the LMWC Standards, which will reduce many of the regulated pollutants and close loopholes, such as the startup, shutdown, malfunction exemption, and the alternative compliance option. In our testimony and comments, we have urged the EPA to go further and make the new standards truly protective of public health. 

 

 Waste incinerator emissions contain many harmful substances, including particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, lead, cadmium, mercury, and dioxins/furans. They are a serious threat to public health, causing or worsening chronic illnesses like asthma, respiratory illnesses, heart disease, cancer, neurological disorders, preterm births, and leading to thousands of premature deaths annually. 

 

 The EPA estimates that the proposed rule will result in up to $14 billion dollars in health benefits over 20 years, just from the reductions in PM and ozone. However, the EPA should lower emissions limits further. There is no safe level of many of these toxic substances, dioxin and mercury for instance. It is  difficult to estimate the health benefits of eliminating the toxic soup of air pollutants emitted from waste incinerators around our state – that would be priceless. Requiring continuous monitoring of emissions and disallowing 30-day averaging would yield more accurate data and close loopholes used to get around the regulations.

The EPA could and should regulate other dangerous chemicals in LMWC emissions. I am particularly concerned about PFAS because of the huge amounts of plastic burned. PFAS are toxic forever chemicals that have also been linked to various diseases and cancers. Here in Connecticut, PFAS has been found in wells and in school drinking water. There are already fish advisories for several rivers where the PFAS testing has been done, and it has just begun. The EPA should require monitoring for PFAS in the final rule.

 

Connecticut is also one of the states most dependent on waste incinerators to manage its growing waste stream, after well-meaning legislators closed down our stinky landfills decades ago, and built five so-called “waste-to-energy” incinerators around the state. The majority of our towns send their trash to a waste incinerator in a low income, “distressed” (Environmental Justice/EJ community, the largest facility is now in Bridgeport) or to an out-of-state landfill.

 

 

The WinWaste Putnam Incinerator Ash Landfill, the last landfill in Connecticut, is sited in Putnam, a “distressed” (EJ) community in rural Eastern Connecticut. It currently receives most of the waste incinerator ash from the four remaining trash incinerators in Connecticut, as well as some from New York state. 

 

Incinerator ash is highly toxic, and a landfill of the ash has all the problems of leakage and toxicity that caused Connecticut to close its landfills many years ago, except that the incineration process has concentrated the toxins! Pre-combustion controls would reduce emissions by sorting out materials that emit dangerous toxics when burned, i.e., plastics, and would reduce the amount of waste to be burned by diverting organic waste to productive uses. This would prevent air pollution and have the added benefit of less ash and less toxics in the ash to leach out. Pre-combustion controls should be required in the new standards.

 

The comment period on the LMWC is open until March 25. If you would like to submit comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0183, go to Regulations.gov  and follow the online instructions for submitting comments. 

A strong grassroots response will help to achieve the strongest regulations!

 

We can’t be satisfied with just less dirty air, with only some toxic chemicals, or only in some areas, we want clean air and a healthy, livable environment for all.

 

Walk with us,

 

Susan

Susan Eastwood is Chapter Chair of Sierra Club Connecticut.

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Image: Toxic ash from trash incinerator By MaciejBledowski

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