WASHINGTON -- Nine of the country's biggest chemical polluters have agreed to drastically reduce the emission of probable cancer-causing fumes from 40 of their plants over the next two years, the Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday.
Government environmental officials said they hoped the voluntary commitment would prompt more companies to adopt an attitude of cooperation with the authorities in working toward anti-pollution standards.
The agreement would cut about 9.5 million pounds from the 2.8 billion pounds of poisonous chemicals that plants and factories release into the air each year, said EPA Administrator William K. Reilly.
While this might seem a relatively insignificant improvement, he said, the poisons that were being reduced were among the most damaging to human health.
He expressed the hope that the agreement would trigger similar reductions from other polluters and would build a more cooperative relationship between chemical companies and environmental authorities.
Although current clean air legislation permits the EPA to enforce compliance with anti-pollution standards, the agency's enforcement arm has been tied up for years in a tangle of litigation with companies that have sought loopholes in the regulations.
"I doubt we would have achieved this [agreement] if we had not had the cooperation of the companies involved," Mr. Reilly said.
He said the agreement grew out of a meeting he had in August 1989with executives of the nine corporations and with representatives of the Chemical Manufacturers Association. The plan would cut almost 83 percent of the poisonous emissions from the 40 plants in 14 states by December 1993.
The corporations are among the major petrochemical companies in the nation: BASF, Dow Chemical Co., Exxon Corp., General Electric, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Occidental, Reichhold, Texaco and Texaco Petrochemical.
The 40 plants they control are among 205 cited by the EPA last year as posing the greatest risks to human health.
Twelve are in Texas, eight in Louisiana and the rest are in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Air pollution expert Debbie Sheiman of the Natural Resources Defense Council said the step was "significant and positive." But she expressed doubts about the effectiveness of such a voluntary undertaking.
She noted that the agreement went further than toxic-emission controls likely to be included in the new clean air legislation currently under discussion in a congressional conference.
The new Clean Air Act, if passed this year, probably would require the EPA to take a two-stage approach to reducing toxic air emissions. The EPA would give corporations 10 years to install the best available technology for containing air emissions.
The agency then would have to set additional standards for protecting public health.