Importing PCBs into the United States has been illegal since Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976, but Veolia is seeking an exemption to this federal law.
Four organizations - the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, the Chemical Weapons Working Group and Communities In-Power Development Association - warn that PCBs are a dangerous class of chemicals that accumulate in the human body, impact the brain and nervous system, and cause a range of health effects such as cancer, immune suppression, reproductive damage, birth defects, and fetal death.
'Moving these PCBs into the country by truck over highways to Port Arthur will expose millions of people to the possibility of an accident, release of PCBs during transport, and exposure to this dangerous toxin,' said Dr. Neil Carman, with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.
'If there is no transportation accident, people will be exposed anyway if EPA allows Veolia to burn PCBs in Port Arthur,' he said.Carman says, 'Safer, cleaner, alternative non-burn technologies already exist and are readily portable so they could be used on site in Mexico to more safely handle the PCB disposal at each location.'
PCBs are a mixture of individual chemicals which are no longer produced in the United States. They have been used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment because they don't burn easily and are good insulators. The manufacture of PCBs was stopped in the United States in 1977 because of evidence they build up in the environment and can cause harmful health effects.
Low-income African-Americans in Port Arthur are already suffering from an unjust concentration of toxic facilities, the environmental groups maintain.
Petrochemical plants and industrial facilities in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area include EI DuPont de Nemours, Sabine River Works, Bayer Corporation, Huntsman Corporation, TDI Halter, ExxonMobil Corporation, Motiva Enterprises, Inland Eastex, Clark Port Arthur Refinery, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, and DuPont Beaumont Works in addition to Veolia.
With only four PCB incinerators in operation in the United States, Port Arthur's Veolia is number one in the nation for PCB releases, according to the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, a database that tracks emissions from industrial facilities across the country.
Besides burning PCBs, Veolia in a highly-publicized case last year prevailed in burning military nerve gas waste despite an earlier injunction which was over-ruled by a federal circuit court judge.
'Texans are currently experiencing a heavy toxic exposure in our atmosphere because Veolia is already burning domestic PCBs and the toxic nerve gas waste called hydrolosate. Now it looks like we could suffer the burning of waste from abroad as well,' said Hilton Kelley, founding director of the Communities In-Power Development Association based in Port Arthur.
'The EPA must not allow Veolia to continue using Southeast Texas to burn America's or the world's most toxic waste,' Kelley said.
In response to environmental justice concerns, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson approved a 45-day extension for public comments on the Veolia application, which ended on Thursday, June 5.
The EPA will hold a public meeting on the issue in Port Arthur on Thursday, June 19.
'It is paramount that citizens and elected officials become aware of this issue and understand that we are already experiencing a toxic body burden in every American as a result of exposure to PCBs and dioxins in the ambient environment for years,' said Carman. 'We cannot go backwards and allow the circumvention of a law passed to protect us from burning even more PCBs.'