Three environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to force the Environmental Protection Agency to issue standards regulating all hazardous air emissions from PVC manufacturing plants, as it was ordered to do four years ago by a federal appellate court.
The lawsuit was filed Oct. 22 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by San Francisco nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice. The company is acting on behalf of the Sierra Club and Louisiana community action groups in Mossville and Baton Rouge specifically, Mossville Environmental Action Now and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. Until 1997, Earthjustice was the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.
``What is happening to the people who live in the shadows of these plants is, quite simply put, heartbreaking,'' said Katie Renshaw, an attorney with Earthjustice, in a news release. ``We're going to court to see, once and for all, that limits are placed on the dangerous chemicals raining down on communities from PVC plants.''
The lawsuit asked the court to order EPA to propose and promulgate regulation ``in accordance with expeditious deadlines.''
Allen Blakey, vice president of industry and government affairs for the Vinyl Institute in Arlington, Va., said the institute ``supports whatever EPA has to do'' under the appellate court order from 2004.
``The Vinyl Institute believes the industry is using the best technology'' to reduce emissions from its plants, he said. ``Our emissions are down dramatically. They have been reduced by more than 99 percent since 1976.''
There are 21 PVC plants in the U.S., including six each in Louisiana and Texas.
``We think our plants are good neighbors, operating responsibly and have a good record of reducing emissions,'' Blakey said.
Blakey disagreed with contentions by the three environmental groups related to dioxin emissions. Without citing any specific study, Earthjustice said randomly tested residents in Mossville had dioxin levels nearly 10 times the national average, with some individuals showing dioxin levels 100 times the national average.
Blakey pointed to several federal and state government studies, which have found the incidence of cancers in the Louisiana area where six vinyl chloride monomer plants operate are comparable to state and national levels.
A 2002 report by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, for example, found that cancer incidence in Calcasieu Parish, which includes the town of Mossville, is ``in line with national and statewide cancer incidence rates.'' The study analyzed 7,100 cases of cancer from 1988-97 and found that no cases of soft-tissue cancer, typically associated with dioxins, were found in Mossville, which has four vinyl production facilities, including two VCM manufacturing plants.
Also, an investigation in 1999 by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Calcasieu residents have similar blood dioxin levels as people nationwide and as those in the parish of Lafayette, La., where there are no PVC plants.
In June 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia threw out a vinyl chloride standard from 1976 that EPA had reaffirmed in 2002 saying the agency had failed to establish emission standards for every hazardous air pollutant from PVC plants as required under the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990.
That appellate court had ordered EPA to rewrite the rule but set no timetable for doing so. The Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 had set a Nov. 15, 2000, deadline to put the rule into effect. VI unsuccessfully petitioned the court not to void the PVC standard in the 2002 rule. VCM emissions currently are regulated by the EPA rule set in 1976.
In issuing its rule in 2002, EPA said the VCM emission standard it had set in 1976 was sufficient because it reflected the use of the maximum achievable control technology. In that rule, EPA said the controls imposed on VCM would limit emissions of other potential dangerous substances including vinylidene chloride, hydrogen chloride, chromium, lead and chlorine.
An EPA spokesman said the agency was reviewing the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.
In 2000, EPA classified VCM as a Group A human carcinogen, saying long-term exposure could result in liver damage, and that animal studies raised concerns about potential reproductive and development hazards to humans.