On Dec. 21 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, finalized changes to Clean Air Act standards for boilers and certain incinerators designed to achieve extensive public health protections by slashing toxic air pollution, including mercury and particle pollution. At the same time, EPA says the changes address feedback provided by industry and labor groups, thereby increasing the rule’s flexibility and dramatically reduces compliance costs. As a result, 99 percent of the approximately 1.5 million boilers in the U.S. are not covered or can meet the new standards by conducting periodic maintenance or regular tune-ups.
The new rules set numerical emission limits for less than one percent of boilers—those that emit the majority of pollution from this sector. For these high emitting boilers and incinerators, typically operating at refineries, chemical plants and other industrial facilities, EPA is establishing more targeted emissions limits that protect public health and provide industry with practical, cost-effective options to meet the standards.
The final adjustments to the standards are based on an extensive analysis of data and input from states, environmental groups, industry, lawmakers and the public. As a result of information gathered through this review, including significant dialogue and meetings with public health groups, industry, and the public, the final rule dramatically cuts the cost of implementation by individual boilers that EPA proposed in 2010. At the same time, these rules will continue to deliver significant public health benefits. EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce these pollutants, the public will see $13 to $29 in health benefits, including fewer instances of asthma, heart attacks, as well as premature deaths.

On December 2, 2011, EPA proposed changes to the March 2011 Clean Air Act emissions standards for large and small boilers and incinerators that burn solid waste. These standards cover more than 200,000 boilers and incinerators that emit harmful air pollution, including mercury, cadmium, and particle pollution.
Boilers burn natural gas, coal, wood, oil, or other fuel to produce steam. The steam is used to produce electricity or provide heat. Process heaters heat raw or intermediate materials during an industrial process. Boilers and process heaters are used at wide variety of facilities and may stand alone.
In summary:
  • EPA's proposed standards will control toxic air emissions from boilers located at large and small sources of air toxics.
  • These rules are developed under sections 112 and 129 of the Clean Air Act, two provisions that target toxic air pollution.
  • Under these sections, EPA is required to set technology-based standards for toxic air pollutants, reflective of levels achieved by the best performing existing sources.

According to EPA, there are more than 1.5 million boilers in the U.S. For 86 percent of all boilers in the United States, these rules would not apply, because these boilers burn clean natural gas at area source facilities and emit little pollution. For almost 13 percent of all boilers in the United States, EPA’s standards would continue to rely on practical, cost-effective work practice standards to reduce emissions. For the highest emitting 0.4 percent of all boilers in the United States, including boilers located at refineries, chemical plants, and other industrial facilities, EPA is proposing more targeted revised emissions limits that provide industry practical, protective, cost-effective options to meet the standards.

Boiler and incinerator regulations1 are closely related because similar units may be considered boilers or incinerators based on whether or not they burn solid waste materials. EPA is also proposing changes to how to determine which non-hazardous secondary materials would be considered solid waste and which would be considered fuel. This distinction would determine whether a material can be burned in a boiler or whether it must be burned in an incinerator.

For more information, please consult the Federal Register.
  1. Incinerators burn waste to dispose of it. Some recover energy. EPA has established emissions standards for commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators (CISWI). There are 95 solid waste incinerators that burn waste at commercial or industrial facilities. These standards will reduce emissions of harmful pollutants including mercury, lead, cadmium, nitrogen dioxide and particle pollution.