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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing proposals that would cut U.S. mercury emissions by more than half and would significantly cut other pollutants from boilers, process heaters and solid waste incinerators. These pollutants include several air toxics which are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health problems and environmental damage. The proposed rules are estimated to yield more than 5 dollars in public health benefits for every dollar spent.
“Strong cuts to mercury and other harmful emissions will have real benefits for our health and our environment, spur clean technology innovations and save American communities billions of dollars in avoided health costs,” said EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “This is a cost-effective, commonsense way to protect our health and the health of our children, and get America moving into the clean economy of the future.”
Combined, these proposals would cut annual mercury emissions from about 200,000 industrial boilers process heaters and solid waste incinerators, slashing overall mercury emissions by more than 50 percent. Industrial boilers and process heaters are the second largest source of mercury emissions in the United States.
Mercury can damage children’s developing brains and nervous systems even before they are born. When emitted to the air, mercury eventually settles in water, where it can change into methylmercury, which builds up in ocean and freshwater fish and can be highly toxic to people who eat the fish. This sometimes leads to fish consumption advisories to protect public health.
When fully implemented, today’s proposal would yield combined health benefits estimated at $18 billion to $44 billion annually. These benefits include preventing between 2,000 and 5,200 premature deaths, and about 36,000 asthma attacks a year. Estimated annual costs of installing and operating pollution controls required under these rules would be $3.6 billion.
These actions cover emissions from two types of combustion units. The first type of unit, boilers and process heaters, burns fuel such as natural gas, coal, and oil to produce heat or electricity. These units can also burn non-hazardous secondary materials such as processed tires and used oil. Boilers are located at large industrial facilities and smaller facilities, including commercial buildings, hotels, and universities. The second type of unit, commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators, burns solid waste.
Large boilers and all incinerators would be required to meet emissions limits for mercury and other pollutants. Facilities with boilers would also be required to conduct energy audits to find cost effective ways to reduce fuel use and emissions. Smaller facilities, such as schools, with some of the smallest boilers, would not be included in these requirements, but they would be required to perform tune-ups every two years.
EPA is also proposing to identify which non-hazardous secondary materials would be considered solid waste and which would be considered fuel. This distinction would determine whether a material can be burned in a boiler or whether it must be burned in a solid waste incinerator. The agency is also soliciting comment on several other broader approaches that would identify additional non-hazardous secondary materials as solid waste when burned in combustion units.
EPA will take comment on these proposed rules for 45 days after they are published in the Federal Register. EPA will hold a public hearing on these rules soon after they are published in the Federal Register. For more information on the proposals and details on the public hearings: http://www.epa.gov/airquality/combustion