The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a proposal that will cut mercury emissions in the U.S. by more than half and significantly cut other pollutants from boilers, process heaters and solid waste incinerators. The estimated annual cost to businesses for installing and operating pollution controls would be $3.6 billion.
These proposals would cut annual mercury emissions from about 200,000 industrial boilers, process heaters and solid waste incinerators, which together are considered to be second largest source of mercury emissions in the U.S.
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 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.
These pollutants include several air toxins, which are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health problems and environmental damage. By implementing the proposal, the EPA expects it will prevent between 2,000 and 5,200 premature deaths, and about 36,000 asthma attacks a year.
The proposed rules also will deliver $5 in public health benefits for every dollar spent, translating into an annual savings of $18 to $44 billion, estimates the EPA.
Under the proposal, the EPA may also identify which non-hazardous secondary materials would be considered solid waste or fuel. The decision will determine whether a material can be burned in a boiler or a solid waste incinerator.