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GUEST OPINION: EPA Cancels Rahway PFAS Burn Experiment - Win for Clean Air



The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that they are cancelling their Municipal Waste Combustor Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) Emissions Characterization Study in Rahway, NJ. They had planned to conduct experimental burning of CF4, a compound related to PFAS. According to the EPA’s own presentation prepared on the subject in April 2020, the primary objective of these experiments burning CF4 is to “investigate how well thermal disposal processes such as hazardous waste and solid waste incinerators work for PFAS waste.” The experiment was cancelled in large part because of public outcry.


“This is a big win for the people of New Jersey and Rahway. Because of public pressure, EPA has decided to cancel their experiment of burning a poly-fluorocarbon, CF4, at the Covanta Incinerator in Rahway. This shows that by standing up to the EPA when they’re wrong, we can stop something that is bad for the environment and public health. EPA was using this experiment as a way to burn PFAS in solid waste incinerators. Burning PFAs releases harmful and even toxic chemicals, and since it’s a forever chemical it stays in the environment and people forever,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The EPA cancelled this experiment because people stood up. They couldn’t explain rationally why they wanted to turn the people of Rahway into a lab experiment. It is shameful that the NJDEP signed off on this experiment even though Governor Murphy says that he wants to protect Environmental Justice communities.”


According to the EPA, CF4 needs to be heated to 1,400°C for >1 second to achieve 99.99% destruction. In a presentation on the subject, the EPA says that “PFAS emission measurement methods are needed to inform regulatory decisions.”  The Sierra Club is currently involved in a lawsuit to halt the reckless incineration of toxic PFAS-based fire fighting foams under contracts with the US military. 


“We were able to stop this project that would have turned the people of Rahway into a lab experiment. Even though EPA canceled the project, they didn’t want to. EPA coal lobbyist Wheeler attacked Judith Enck and environmentalists like the Sierra Club who stood up against this abuse of power and violation of the Clean Air Act. This experiment would have allowed the Trump Administration to change the rules to burn PFAS in solid waste incinerators. PFAS is not only hazardous, but a forever chemical which means it bioaccumulates and stays in the environment,” said Tittel. “We sent a letter to DEP raising concerns that this experiment would be used as way to burn PFAS in solid waste incinerators. Their own presentation validated that our concerns were accurate.”


The study was proposed by the EPA Office of Research & Development in North Carolina. The experiment would have burned CF4 and measured air deposition, what is coming out of the plant, what goes into the bag house and filter, and to see if there is scrubber effluent. They had planned to burn the CF4 compound in different boilers to see how it works in Rahway.


“This was a really big win because Wheeler has always sided with industry over the environment. Under Wheeler, the EPA stands for Every Polluters Agency. They have been on the side of polluters and against public health all along. Every time you stop them, it is a big win. In the past four years, they’ve worked to roll back over 100 environmental rules and regulations. We stopped them today, but we have to keep fighting. We must make sure that they don’t try to use another part of New Jersey or another state as their test lab. They already went to New York but were stopped. Now that we’ve stopped them in New Jersey, they may go somewhere else,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Today was a victory in the battle to stop and clean up PFAS, but there’s a long battle to go. We need to make sure that they don’t incinerate PFAS anywhere and that they hold polluters accountable and force them to do real cleanups.”