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PR MEDICAL WASTE INCINERATION

Release Date: 02/02/95
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PR MEDICAL WASTE INCINERATION

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 1995

EPA CALLS FOR BROAD PUBLIC COMMENT ON PROPOSAL TO PROTECT PUBLIC HEALTH FROM MEDICAL WASTE INCINERATION EMISSIONS

EPA today proposed flexible, common-sense rules that will dramatically reduce public health risks from dioxin, mercury and other air pollutants emitted by medical waste incinerators. EPA is asking for broad public comment on this proposal.

The proposal would reduce incinerator emissions of nine air pollutants suspected of causing cancer or other serious health effects by 88,000 tons or 93 percent yearly. The pollutants are dioxin, lead, carbon monoxide, mercury, particulates (dust and soot), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, cadmium and hydrogen chloride.

Medical waste incinerators are an important source of dioxin air emissions in the United States, and this proposal would reduce dioxin emissions from these sources by 99 percent annually.

Medical waste incinerators are also a significant source of mercury emissions, and this proposal will reduce mercury from these sources by approximately 93 percent annually.

EPA's goal is to create a final rule that achieves the environmental benefits in the most cost-effective, flexible way possible. The Agency is requesting broad public comment on the proposal to ensure that EPA has the best information available to make regulatory decisions affecting facilities that use medical waste incinerators. EPA is requesting comment on a number of issues, including the possibility of separately regulating very small medical waste incinerators (usually located in rural areas), and on the availability, cost and performance of alternative methods of waste disposal.

EPA defines medical waste as any solid waste produced in the diagnosis, treatment or immunization of humans or animals, such as used needles, gauzes, boxes and packaging materials.

The proposal applies to all new and existing medical waste incinerators in the United States. EPA estimates there are approximately 3700 existing incinerators and that about 700 new (or modified) ones will be built in the next five years.

Today's proposed standards for new sources and guidelines for existing sources provide incinerator operators with a number of compliance options. When the proposal becomes final in April 1996, existing facilities will have approximately two to five years to comply with the rule, while new facilities will have approximately six months to comply.

EPA, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is currently conducting a major reassessment of the dioxin risk to human health. The Agencies issued a draft report on dioxin reassessment last September. EPA has issued a nationwide request to scientists, industries, state and local governments, public interest groups and hospitals for new data on dioxin that will better assist the federal government in understanding its health and environmental effects.

Last September EPA proposed separate air pollution standards for municipal

waste incinerators that will reduce dioxin from these sources by 99 percent and sharply reduce other air pollutants.

The medical waste incinerator proposal will appear soon in the Federal Register, but will be computer-accessible earlier through EPA's electronic Technology Transfer Network (TTN), under the Clean Air Act Amendments Bulletin Board ("Recently Signed Rules") at 919-541-5742 (backup number for access problems is 919-541-5384).

(For further technical information on the proposal, contact Rick Copland (919-541-5265) or Fred Porter (919-541-5251) at EPA's Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards).

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