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Environmental groups demand stronger air quality controls for Metro East incinerator

An illustration of pollution, 2017
Rici Hoffarth
St. Louis Public Radio
Community groups in the Metro East say the air quality monitoring requirements in a proposed Clean Air Act permit for Veolia's incinerator in Sauget, Ill won't protect public health.

Environmental and faith groups are calling for the Environmental Protection Agency to increase air monitoring around a hazardous waste incinerator in East St. Louis.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed an air quality permit for Veolia Environmental Services’ incinerator in Sauget. In recent years, environmental groups have fought for stricter limits on mercury, dioxins and volatile organic compounds emitted by the facility. Now, they complain that the air monitoring required in the proposed permit is insufficient and would allow the facility to emit harmful levels of heavy metals.

United Congregations of Metro East, the Metro East Green Alliance and the Illinois Sierra Club are planning a rally to raise awareness about the permit before the EPA’s public hearing Tuesday evening. The historically poor air quality in East St. Louis has caused health problems for residents, said Mike Atty, spokesperson for United Congregations of Metro East.

“We have children with high asthma rates in the community surrounding these industrial sites in the Metro East,” Atty said, “and we think it’s a travesty that these people would try to relax regulations that protect air quality in this community.”

Industrial sites in the area are so close together that it’s difficult to tell where pollution is coming from, said Elizabeth Scrafford, a senior campaign representative with the Illinois Sierra Club. She added that air monitors for metals need to be placed near the site of the incinerator to evaluate how the facility could be contributing to air pollution.

“If you can be clear about what’s coming from the plant, then you can set good boundaries on what the pollutant levels should be,” Scrafford said.

The rally will take place an hour before the EPA’s 5 p.m public hearing at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville-East St. Louis Higher Learning Campus, 601 James R. Thompson Blvd. The federal agency is taking public comments on the permit until Sept. 5.

Follow Eli Chen on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.