Regulating “Odors”: The Case of Foundries
THE EPA DECISION not to regulate odors had far-reaching consequences for the experiences of firms, their surrounding communities, and state regulatory agencies. This chapter explores these implications through an examination of four disputes surrounding iron and steel foundries and their pollution-affected communities.
Foundries melt and shape metal into parts used in 90 percent of manufactured products, from airplanes to zippers.1 The industry provides widespread economic benefits,2 but has long been associated with severe pollution problems. Historically, the primary source of air pollution from foundries was the melting process and its associated particulate emissions (fly ash, soot, metallic dust, and other forms).3 However, by the early 1960s those living in the vicinity of foundries began to notice, and complain about, “burnt rubber” chemical fumes. The cause was a change in the technology of casting and the introduction of newly developed synthetic resins into the process.4
Benzene, formaldehyde, naphthalene, and phenol are some of the carcinogens and other Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) that are often present in these foundry fumes.5 HAPs emissions from foundries were among those that the 1990 Clean Air Act regime was intended to control. But by the end of 2002 this task remained unfulfilled. In the meantime, as has been the case since the 1960s, foundry fumes—defined as “odors”—are for the most part subject to public nuisance regulation via local and state agencies.
While the chapter’s focus is on a single industry, there is no implication that metal casting should be singled out from the many other industries emitting odorous and hazardous pollutants. Refineries, pulp mills, and chemical manufacturers are among the many industries that would have been equally appropriate candidates for study; however, comparative cases needed to be analyzed within a single industrial category. The importance of intra-industry comparison stems from the similarity of the pollution problems attending each industry, of technological options for pollution abatement, and of juxtaposition of firms and neighborhoods.
The default assumption of the “odor” regime is that the fumes are not a nuisance and do not require intervention. While the presumption is rebuttable, the burden of proof falls on communities to demonstrate its