EPA Airs Medwaste Plan

This spring, the federal government is expected to release its implementation plan for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) medical waste incinerator rule.

A plan was supposed to be released in December 1998, but complications surrounding its language and compliance with air rules delayed the measure, according to Valerie Broadwell, EPA specialist.

The medical waste incinerator rule, signed in August 1997 by EPA Administrator Carol Browner, sets limits for both new and existing medical waste incineration units in nine pollutant categories.

It calls for waste management plans for hospitals with incinerators, and sets rules for testing and monitoring units, as well as operator training and qualification.

States must comply with the federal plan if they have not developed a state implementation plan (SIP) by Sept. 15, 1999. At press time, Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Montana and North Dakota had submitted SIPs to the EPA, which has six months to review them.

Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Allegheny County, Pa., Puerto Rico, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming have SIPs in draft form.

Broadwell expects "most states will have plans in by the deadline."

However, some states may be delaying SIPs because of ongoing litigation. For example, The Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, Washington, D.C., is representing two environmental organizations, which claim that the EPA's rule is not strict enough.

The federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C., started its review after oral arguments were held Nov. 9, 1998.

A decision in the case is expected sometime this spring.

"We're just waiting for the judges," says Rick Copland, EPA environmental engineer who designed the rule. "They're on no deadline."