Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#14 - Waste Management Inc. Sues EPA To Force Agency To Issue Rules Sanctioning Ocean Incineration, 01-Mar-1987

Waste Management, Inc. (WMI), the nation's largest and most aggressive
toxic waste handling company, brought suit against the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency in December, 1986, charging that EPA
has illegally refused to issue permits for incineration of toxic wastes
on ocean-going ships off the coast of New Jersey and elsewhere.

A subsidiary of WMI owns two incinerator ships built more than 10 years
ago in the Netherlands. Available photos show the ships belching
torrents of pitch black smoke, volcano-like, as they burn toxic wastes
out of sight of land. For several years, WMI has been pressuring the
EPA to issue a license to allow WMI to bring millions of gallons of
wastes to the Gulf Coast or to the East Coast, where the wastes would
be stored in tanks, piped onto incinerator ships and transported to
sea, where, according to WMI, they would never be dumped overboard but
would be burned. EPA has, so far withstood the pressure from WMI and
has refused to issue permits. The agency's position is that permits
cannot be issued until regulations have been established controlling
ocean incineration.

WMI contends in its lawsuit that the EPA already has adequate
regulations on the books to cover issuance of ocean incineration
permits. EPA refused in May, 1986, to issue a test-burn permit to WMI
because, the agency said, "important, legal, policy, and technical
issues" about ocean incineration remain undecided.

In August, 1986, the federal Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)
issued a report--more than 2 years in preparation--saying that as much
as 8% of the nation's 250 million tons of hazardous wastes (annually)
could, in theory, be incinerated in specially equipped ocean-going
vessels but OTA said this would be an "interim solution" that should
not replace recovery, recycling and reduction as long-term solutions to
hazardous waste management. OTA concluded that "a specific need" for
ocean incineration could not be demonstrated. Under the 1972 London
Dumping Convention (an international agreement) and the 1972 U.S.
Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, any permit for dumping
wastes at sea must demonstrate the need for such dumping.

The OTA said that one ocean-incineration ship would add 1800 kilograms
(3960 pounds, or about two tons) of PCBs to the ocean each year if it
burned at 99.99% efficiency (a standard the EPA proposed in 1985). The
OTA pointed out that roughly 9000 kilograms (19800 pounds, or nearly 10
tons) of PCBs enter New York bight, a part of the Atlantic Ocean, each
year from sewage dumping, effluent from wastewater treatment plants,
and from other sources. EPA has recently proposed standards requiring
incineration efficiency of 99.9999%, which would permit only 18
kilograms of PCBs to enter the ocean annually from an incineration ship.

The OTA report said ocean incineration might be the preferable
alternative for certain highly-chlorinated compounds, such as PCBs,
because land-based incinerators would require expensive scrubbers to
protect public health during incineration of such materials. The OTA
said the lack of requirement for scrubbers on ocean incineration ships
"appears justified" SO LONG AS OPERATING CONDITIONS AND WASTE TYPES ARE
TIGHTLY REGULATED.

Critics of WMI point out that the company has an unparalleled record of
breaking environmental laws in many parts of the United States; they
say therefore the company cannot be trusted to comply with any ocean
incineration regulations. They also point out that the EPA often winks
at violations of the law by this particular company, imposing fines
that are a small fraction of the profits the company has earned by
breaking the law. Chemical Waste Management, the subsidiary of WMI that
would operate the incinerator ships, showed profits in 1986 of $52.2
million, an increase of 104% over 1985's $25.6 million in profits.

In recent years, citizen protests have had a major effect on public
policy regarding ocean incineration. Over 6400 people attended the
EPA's public forum on ocean incineration, held in Brownsville, Texas,
in 1983; it was the biggest public meeting the EPA had ever
experienced, and shortly thereafter the Agency denied Waste
Management's application for a permit for a test burn in the Gulf. In
1986, more than 3000 people attended four EPA hearings along the East
Coast, and again EPA denied the company's permit for a test burn off
the New Jersey Coast.

In its December, 1986, lawsuit, brought in U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia, WMI asked the judge for a "summary judgement"--
requesting the judge to rule immediately on the legal issues without
getting into the merits or substance of the arguments over ocean
incineration. WMI is asking the court to force EPA to either issue a
permit for ocean incineration under existing regulations or to issue
new regulations within 30 days.

The 223-page OTA report is available from Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402; phone (202) 783-
3238; price: $11. Ask for document No. 052-003-01046-1.

--Peter Montague

=====

Descriptor terms: wmi; epa; lawsuits; hazardous waste; ocean
incineration; incineration; ota; london dumping convention; marine
protection, research and sanctuaries act; pcbs; oceans; pollution;
water pollution; regulations; cwmi;