The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Pollution
One of the most encouraging environmental developments of recent years is the trend toward preventing —and not just treating—pollution. For example, scientists have found various ways to treat wastes in order to protect the environment. Now, there is growing realization that whenever possible, avoiding wastes altogether is even better.
On a broad level, passage of several laws relating to the environment helped create a climate of change. The Clean Air Act (CAA) in 1970 and the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972 signalled our nation's intent to address pollution. Many activities and programs have followed these Acts to limit further the amounts of allowable discharges into the environment. We now recognize that end-of-pipe technology offers only a partial solution and fails to completely protect the environment.
The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 takes a new approach. To avoid pollution in the first place, manufacturers are encouraged to modify equipment and processes, redesign products, substitute raw materials, and make improvements in management techniques, training, and inventory control.
Here's one example. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for protecting people and the environment from risks associated with all sorts of toxic chemicals.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is through pollution prevention. Before a new chemical is marketed, ERA reviews the ingredients and intended uses to determine potential health or environmental hazards. During the review, EPA identifies measures aimed at reducing exposures to the chemical. At this early stage, companies wanting to manufacture or use the chemical can readily integrate pollution prevention measures into their plans. If such measures will not reduce potential risks, ERA can regulate the chemical in several other ways.
ERA also reviews chemicals already in production. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Inventory lists about 70,000 existing chemicals. Of greatest concern are 10,000 to 14,000 high-volume chemicals for which little or no data exist. To address this large number of chemicals, ERA systematically reviews clusters of related chemicals and ranks them for further review or testing. Nominations of candidates for screening come form a variety of sources, including a federal interagency testing committee of experts.
Pollution prevention also involves waste minimization —recycling what we used to throw away or not generating wastes in the first place. Many companies now are cleaning up solvents for re-use or changing the industrial process to more efficiently use raw materials. Likewise, scientists are developing new technologies every year to eliminate or greatly reduce our dependence on toxic substances. A simple example is using hot water and soap instead of organic solvents to clean equipment.
Preventing pollution can save money in a variety of ways, and so ERA has designed several nonregulatory, innovative pollution prevention programs. Corporations, environmental groups, electric utilities, and state, city and local governments participate voluntarily in the following:
The "33/50" Program focuses on reducing over all risk from 17 high-priority toxic chemicals. The name drives from voluntary performance goals: participating companies pledged to reduce emissions and transfers for these chemicals by 33% in 1992 and 50% by 1995. The 1992 goals were surpassed a year ahead of schedule—more than 486 million pounds of reductions were achieved, due to conscientious business practices.
Through the "Design for the Environment" Program, ERA is working with specific industries to find chemical substitutes and exposure reduction techniques. The printing and drycleaning industries are currently piloting a voluntary shift toward using more environmentally safe chemicals and technologies. More information is available at 202/260-1821.
Six "Energy STAR" programs seek to prevent emissions of air pollutants associated with climate change and acid rain, while promoting profitable investments in energy-efficient technologies. Information about all "Energy STAR" programs is available from 202/233-9659. You can request specific documents to be mailed or sent by facsimile. A handy set of directions walks you through program selections on your telephone.
In a nutshell, the "Green Lights" program encourages the widespread use of energy-saving light bulbs and fluorescent tubes. "Green Lights" participants are already avoiding over 95 million kilowatts annually—that equals $9.4 million in avoided electricity costs.
The "Energy STAR Buildings" program is a partnership effort with business to promote energy efficiency in commercial buildings. The program starts with membership in "Green Lights," followed by a comprehensive building survey and tune-up. The program then engineers increased efficiency in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning loads and improved
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fans and air-handling systems.
"Energy STAR Computers" is another partnership with leading U.S. manufacturers to save additional energy costs. Desktop computers, monitors, and printers can "sleep" or "power down" when not in use, cutting electricity use by over one-half. The federal government, the largest user of computer equipment in the world, will buy only energy-efficient computers in the future.
The "Ag STAR" Program focuses on animal waste methane which is emitted to the air when manures ferment. Such emissions waste a usable energy supply, produce odors, and contribute to climate change. This innovative program recovers methane gas from swine and dairy manure for re-use by the farmer, and looks at better livestock nutrition. Several international projects are under way.
The "Natural Gas STAR" program is another methane recovery project aimed at oil and natural gas pipeline leakages and system inefficiencies. EPA is working with public utility commissions to reform rate structures to include incentives for efficiency gains, cost reductions, and methane emissions reductions.
The "Super Efficient Refrigerator Program" seeks to produce energy-wise appliances for home and commercial use. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals used in refrigerators for cooling and freezing, are ozone-depleting substances that will be phased out of production by 1995. This program is finding alternative coolants and optimizing energy efficiency through better compressors, door seals, and insulation.
In addition, ERA has many other new voluntary programs, some just getting off the ground, but the following three top the list.
The "Climate-Wise" Program challenges organizations from all sectors of the economy to find creative ways to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Such actions may include raw material substitution, process improvements, and switching to lower-carbon-content fuels. Other initiatives put into place employee's good ideas: planting more trees, grasses, and plants to absorb excess carbon dioxide from the air, car pooling, and installing corporate-wide efforts to recycle and reduce waste. For more information, call 202/260-4407.
The "Waste-Wise" Program is public-private partnership designed to assist businesses in reducing their solid waste. Businesses set their own goals and commit to achievements in the following three areas: waste prevention, recycling collection, and buying or manufacturing recycled products. Additional information is available by calling 800/EPA-WISE.
Last, but not least, is the "Water Alliance for Voluntary Efficiency" Program, called WAVE. Designed to focus attention on efficient use of water, WAVE encourages hotels and motels to install water-saving devices. Use of low-flush toilets, and low-flow shower heads, dishwashers, and laundry equipment, as well as recycling wastewater, is both profitable and practical. The payback period for most projects is three years or less. This program will be expanded to more businesses, institutions, and local governments. For more information, call 202/260-7288.
The same basic pollution prevention ideas can be used in the home. Each of us can use energy efficient or recyclable products and decrease our volume of waste. In addition, bookstores and libraries typically contain information that can help you and your family dramatically reduce—and in some cases eliminate altogether—everyday sources of pollution. As our awareness grows and we begin to realize the full health and environmental effects our actions have, pollution prevention becomes increasingly attractive.
This information was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. •
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