WASHINGTON — A new Environmental Protection Agency rule aimed at cutting toxic dioxin emissions from medical waste incinerators is not likely to cause hospitals to move away from PVC.
At least that is the conclusion of a coalition of environmental and medical groups, called Health Care Without Harm, that is pushing to reduce the use of PVC in hospitals. The coalition, which contends that making and burning PVC contributes to the release of toxic dioxins, had been fighting for tougher rules that it said would force hospitals to move away from PVC.
Although EPA's Aug. 15 decision does not address PVC directly, it states that the material burned in an incinerator is less important in determining whether dioxin is produced than the incinerator's operation and design—good news for PVC, said Kip Howlett, executive director of the Chlorine Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va.
Mark Sofman, manager of industry affairs at the Vinyl Institute in Morristown, N.J., said the rule will not impact PVC use in hospitals. Vinyl remains the material of choice in about 25 percent of medical products, he said.
EPA said the rule will reduce dioxin emissions from medical incinerators by 95 percent. The agency said that is likely to result in the shutdown of at least 50 percent of the 2,400 incinerators now operated by hospitals on-site, requiring that waste to be burned or disposed of elsewhere.
But the new rule still will allow medical waste incinerators to generate at least 10 times as much dioxin as commercial hazardous waste incinerators, said Jacqueline Savitz, an analyst with Washington-based Environmental Working Group. EWG is a member of the Falls Church, Va., Health Care Without Harm coalition, which includes the American Nursing Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
EWG criticized EPA for backing away from tougher standards proposed in 1995, which it says would have done more in getting hospitals to rethink their use of PVC.
``If the rules would have been strict, hospitals would have stopped incinerating or they would have looked at what they are incinerating that produces dioxin,'' Savitz said.
The coalition wants hospitals to shift away from PVC gradually because it recognizes that plastic is vital to many life-saving medical applications, Savitz said. But regulations can drive change, and ``should not be limited based on what we think we can do today.''
The New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council may issue a legal challenge to the rule because it allows 200 times more dioxin than the Clean Air Act permits, said NRDC lawyer James Pew.