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Taking Toxics Out of the Air

Part 3 - Summaries of Related Solid Waste Incineration Rules

EPA has also issued final rules to control emissions of certain air toxics from solid waste combustion facilities. These rules set emissions limits for new solid waste combustion facilities and provide emissions guidelines for existing solid waste combustion facilities under Section 129 of the Clean Air Act.

Municipal Waste Combustors
Final rule published December 19, 1995; amended August 25, 1997

  • Municipal waste combustors include incinerators that burn waste and waste-to-energy plants that generate energy from garbage. EPA's final rule applies to all municipal waste combustion units with the capacity to burn more than 250 tons of garbage per day (known as large municipal waste combustion units; EPA has initiated development of rules for small municipal waste combustion units).
  • Municipal waste combustors release a number of pollutants, including cadmium, lead, mercury, dioxin, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter. Dioxin and mercury are of particular concern because they are toxic, persist in the environment, and bioaccumulate.
  • EPA's rule contains strict MACT-based standards for new incinerators and emissions limits for existing incinerators.
  • The rule affects an estimated 164 municipal waste combustion units and will significantly reduce air toxics emissions (dioxins, lead, cadmium, and mercury). The rule will reduce dioxin emissions by 99 percent and mercury emissions by 90 percent, compared with 1990 emissions levels from these sources. Overall emissions of other air pollutants (including sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and hydrogen chloride) will be reduced by more than 90,000 tons per year.

Hospital/Medical/Infectious Waste Incinerators
Final rule published September 15, 1997

  • Hospital, medical, and infectious waste is solid waste produced in the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of humans or animals; it includes needles, gauzes, boxes, and packaging materials. Fewer than half of all hospitals and a small number of nursing homes, pharmaceutical research laboratories, and veterinary clinics use incinerators to dispose of their waste.
  • A number of toxic air pollutants, including dioxins, mercury, lead, and cadmium, are released into the air during the incineration process.
  • EPA's rule contains one set of emission requirements for new incinerators and another set for existing incinerators. The rule establishes emissions limits for nine pollutants (including dioxin, lead, cadmium, and mercury). It requires training of incinerator operators and establishes requirements for appropriate siting of new incinerators.
  • The rule affects an estimated 2,400 existing incinerators and will reduce air toxics emissions (dioxins, lead, cadmium, and mercury) by more than 25 tons per year. Dioxins will be reduced by over 90 percent from the current levels emitted by these incinerators. The rule will also reduce other air pollutant emissions (particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen chloride) by over 7,000 tons per year.

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