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EPA chief vows to curb waste disposal hazards


WASHINGTON -- Saying her agency "has not done its job over the past 12 years, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner promised sweeping changes yesterday to protect public health and the environment from harm by hazardous waste incineration.

As expected, Ms. Browner announced that the EPA will spend the next 18 months assuring that incinerators and industrial boilers operating under interim federal approval are performing safely before considering proposals to add capacity.

"The Clinton administration," she said, "will use every tool under the law to assure real change for the safest possible hazardous waste disposal."

The most immediate impact of the steps she outlined will be systematic EPA scrutiny of 171 industrial furnaces now operating under interim permission to determine whether they meet federal requirements for permits. Some, Ms. Browner said, will likely be shut down as a result of the review.

The roster of existing disposal facilities includes 184 hazardous waste incinerators and 171 industrial furnaces, including 31 cement kilns. Together, they process some 5 million tons of waste each year.

The incinerators, specifically designed for burning hazardous waste, have been subject to federal controls since 1980, but the industrial furnaces and utility boilers have only been regulated since 1991.

In addition to reviewing the plants operating without bona fide permits, Ms. Browner said the EPA will introduce dioxin emission standards for the first time and implement more stringent controls on emissions of particulates.

The agency will also require submission of complete risk assessments before approving any future hazardous waste combustion permits, and provide more opportunities for public involvement in incineration issues.

Ms. Browner attributed the reforms in part to a long-standing interest on her part, going back to her days as head of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection.

But the announcement came after weeks of controversy over a hazardous waste incinerator at Liverpool, Ohio, where critics charge that residential communities and a nearby school are jeopardized.

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