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Poisoned Welcome EPA and Texas Waste Firms Roll Out the Red Carpet for PCBs Li EN YOUR ANSWER is ‘the lAlesser of two evils,’ you’re asking the wrong question.” That was not a resigned shrug in the direction of the fall presidential election, but the response of environmental scientist Paul Connett to the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent decision to allow the import of PCB-contaminated wastes to the United States, for disposal by incineration, after a ban of nearly twenty years. In response to requests from the U.S. hazardous waste industry and its supporters in Congress, on March 18 the EPA issued new regulations allowing the import of highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls mitted hazardous waste incinerator facilities \(see “Choose Your Poison,” Observer, The new regulations have not gone uncontested. On March 27, the Sierra Club filed suit against the EPA and .ts director, Carol M. Browner, petitioning for a review of the new rules by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Sierra Club was joined by Greenpeace and other environmental groups, who charge that incineration of imported PCBs will inevitably result in the dispersal of even more poisonous dioxins and dioxin-like chemicals, known to cause severe health effects even in very small amounts. According to Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director for the Lone Star Chapter of PCBs simply means putting more dioxin into our nation’s air, water, food supply, and finally our bodies, including our children and babies. It’s at least double the dioxin at half the price.” The EPA insists that returning the PCBs to the U.S. \(all PCBs were originally manavailable solution to an otherwise intractable problem. Tony Baney, head of the EPA study group responsible for the new rules, said that neighboring countries \(parcilities for disposing of high-level PCBcontaminated waste, and must resort either to more dangerous and expensive methods vironmental groups are opposed to all incineration,” Baney said, “but of all the cur rently available technologies, incineration is the most efficient. There’s a limited supply of this stuff [PCBs], and once it’s incinerated, it’s gone.” Connett, a professor of chemistry at St. Lawrence University and an expert on hazardous waste matters, acknowledges that large-scale alternative methods of disposing of PCBs are still in development, but he also insists that the industry’s and the EPA’s belief in the adequacy of incineration”as getting rid of something once and for all”is completely wrong, even “bordering on the mythological.” In fact, Connett says, properly contained, PCBs “cause little damage.” But once incinerated, “they are dispersed into the air and the food chain, and their incineration byproducts are more poisonous than the PCBs themselves.” Since U.S. manufacture and import of PCBs were prohibited by federal law in 1977, five incinerators have been permitted to burn PCB waste. Two are in Texas: the Rollins Environmental Services facility in Deer Park, and the Chemical Waste Management facility in Port Arthur. Both companies have indicated they are eager to take advantage of the expanded market in PCB waste \(partly because the domestic sources Rollins spokesman told the Observer that the company is “getting prepared aggressively” for the imported waste, but it appears that rival ChemWaste is first in line. On March 28, ChemWaste notified the EPA that it intends to begin importing quantities that may amount to as much six thousand metric tons a year \(originating from waste storage centers in Nuevo Leon ing from fifty parts per million to one hundred percent PCBs. The EPA’s Tony Baney says that shipments cannot actually begin until forty-five days after the Mexican government notifies the EPA of its approval \(not received at early as June, the ChemWaste facility at Port Arthur could be permitted to devote as much as seventy percent of its PCB storage capacity to imported PCB wastes, and according to environmentaliststhe toxic byproducts of PCB combustion will be dispersed into the surrounding air and neighborhoods. Greenpeace staff scientist Pat Costner points out that even the best incinerators have acknowledged the escape of significant amounts of dioxin-contaminated pollution, and the Sierra Club’s Neil Carman adds that the average person already carries a dangerous body-burden \(fifteen to twenty Sierra Club attorney Susan Jordan says that it may be late summer before the Court of Appeals acts on the Sierra Club’s challenge to the new EPA rule. She argues that the EPA, in acting on its own “enforcement discretion,” had no authority to allow the imports under the 1976 Toxic Sub stances Control Act, and was in effect protecting not the public health but “the short-term profits of toxic waste traffickers and the incineration industry.” The environmentalists remain unconvinced by the EPA’s and the hazardous waste industry’s contentions that re-importation and incineration is the “lesser evil” solution to PCB pollution and that opponents only want to keep toxic chemicals “out of their own backyards.” “This is not a `NIMBY’ issue,” responded Carman. “This is a health and-safety issue.” Charlie Cray of Greenpeace pointed out that when it comes to pollution, there are no borders. “Burning PCBs is dangerous and unnecessary no matter where you do it,” said Cray. “There is no justice in polluting communities and the global environment with dioxin.” M.K. Send a Friend the Texas Observer Contact us at 477-0746, or write 307 West 7th St., Austin, TX 78701. The industry’s and Nye EPA’s belief in the adequacy of incineration”as getting rid of something once and for all”is completely wrong, even “bordering on the mythological. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5