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Air Regulations for Municipal Waste Combustors

photograph of a municipal waste combustor


What are Municipal Waste Combustors (MWCs)?

Municipal waste combustors are incinerators which burn household, commercial/retail, and/or institutional waste. About 90 percent of municipal waste combustors are waste-to-energy plants which generate electricity or steam from burning garbage for commercial and residential use.

What Health Effects are Associated with Air Emissions from MWCs?

Emissions from MWCs contain organic emissions (dioxins/furans, carbon monoxide), metal emissions (cadmium, lead, mercury, particulate matter), and acid gas emissions, (hydrogen chloride, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides). These pollutants can cause adverse effects to the public health and the environment. For instance, dioxin, lead and mercury can bioaccumulate in the environment. Acid gases contribute to the acid rain that lowers the pH of surface waters and water sheds, harms forests and damages buildings. Additionally, nitrogen oxides emissions can contribute to ground level ozone, which is associated with a number of adverse health and environmental effects.

What Regulations Exist to Control Air Toxic Emissions from MWCs?

At present EPA regulates large MWC units with the capacity to combust more than 250 tons per day of municipal solid waste. The regulations require control of the following criteria and toxic pollutants: mercury, particulate matter, cadmium, lead, carbon monoxide, dioxins, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen chloride.

State or Federal MWC plans include source and emission inventories, emission limits, testing, monitoring, and reporting requirements, as well as generic or site-specific compliance schedules including increments of progress. Implementation of the MWC emission guidelines through the Federal and State plans will reduce toxic air pollutant emissions by 112,000 tons per year for the following pollutants of concern: dioxin, lead, mercury, acid gases, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and metals. The standards reduce dioxin emissions by 99 percent, and mercury by more than 90% from 1990 levels.

How do the MWC Regulations Effect Region 3?

There are eleven large MWC facilities in Region III states (PA, MD, VA). Implementation of the regulations will reduce toxic air emissions in Region III by approximately 8,900 tons per year.

More Information

For additional information about EPA's municipal waste combustor regulations, access the following EPA Air Toxics Website:

For additional information about municipal solid waste combustors and solid waste in general, visit:

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