NEWARK, N.J.California and New Jersey communities are suing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require trash incinerators to emit less pollutants into the atmosphere. Many of these incinerators are located in predominantly minority communities.
One of the incinerators that meets those standards has sometimes emitted pink-colored mist into Newark’s air.
The groups are asking a judge to order the agency’s updating of its standards for large incinerators. According to them, the EPA was supposed do so at the least 10 year ago.
Plaintiffs in two separate lawsuits seek the same goal: a court order directing EPA to act immediately to limit the emissions of these incinerators.
Jonathan Smith, an attorney from Earthjustice in New York, stated that eighty percent of these large incinerators can be found in environmental justice communities. The commitment to environmental justice has compelled the EPA’s final update of its emissions standards.
Ana Baptista, an Ironbound board member and environmental justice expert at The New School, New York, said that there was a consistent pattern of these facilities, some of them old, being located in environmental justice communities. These lawsuits are necessary to address that.
Environmental justice is a movement to ensure minority communities that are already disproportionately affected by pollution sources are not subject to more, and to reduce existing sources.
The lawsuits were filed Jan. 13 in Washington’s federal court of district, and Dec. 21 in Washington’s appeals court.
The EPA declined to comment citing the pending litigation.
The lawsuits claim violations of the Clean Air Act. According to one lawsuit, amendments to the 1990 law require the EPA set performance standards for large incinerators that burn 250 to more tons of trash per day and to update them every five years.
According to the lawsuit, although the EPA missed the deadline for updating its database in 2011, the agency has not yet taken action.
East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice are active in Long Beach, California, as well as in southeastern Los Angeles. It supports community programs and opposes incinerators. In 2018, an incinerator was closed in Commerce, California.
Ironbound Community Corporation is a large social services provider in Newark, New Jersey. It takes its name from three railroad tracks that border it. It helped delay a plan by a sewage utility to build a backup power station in an area already plagued by pollution and poor air quality.
Baptista grew-up in this neighborhood and described it as often stale and heavily industrialized.
As she was driving to her parent’s house in 2020, she noticed something new emanating from the Newark incinerator.
She said that I saw bright pink smoke coming from it. At first, I thought, “Is this some kinda breast cancer awareness thing they were doing?”
According to Covanta, which operates the facility, the plant accidentally burned materials containing iodine. According to Covanta’s report to New Jersey environmental regulators the company stated that several instances of pinkish and purple mist were caused by material containing iodine. The company also stated that it has stopped accepting such material.
Smith said that four New Jersey trash-incinerators are covered under the EPA standards. They are located in Newark, Camden and Rahway, as well as Westville in Gloucester County. Similar incinerators can be found in California in Long Beach or Crows Landing near Modesto.
According to the companies operating the incinerators, they all adhere to federal environmental standards.
One lawsuit notes 2007 litigation in the context of which the EPA agreed that it would review its incinerator standards. A 2008 court order sent the matter back to EPA for a second glance.
The lawsuit stated that “Over 13 years have passed without any action by EPA to review its standards or update them.”
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