US takes harder line on chemicals management

The new US administration is becoming more vigorous in its regulation of potentially dangerous substances. It has announced action plans for four chemical groups.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published plans to address four groups of chemicals, which it says raise serious health or environmental concerns.1

The Chemical Action Plans are part of the EPA’s new, more vigorous Obama-era approach to chemicals management. The EPA is also reforming the US’s 33-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), now widely considered inadequate and outdated (ENDS Report 417, p 53).

The chemicals involved are: eight phthalates; a range of longer-chain perfluorinated chemicals; short-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs); and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

They were identified according to factors including their persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity; use in consumer products; production volume; reproductive or developmental toxicity; and presence in humans. Action plans for bisphenol A and benzidine dyes are expected later this year and more may follow.

The most eye-catching proposal is for the first use of TSCA’s "chemicals of concern list", on which the EPA will place the phthalates and PBDEs this autumn. A chemical on the list "presents or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment".

Adding a chemical is intended to signal to the public and industry the EPA’s "strong concern" over the risks the substance poses and its intention to do all it can to manage them. A chemical’s manufacturer can challenge the listing.

But if the EPA can make the "unreasonable risk" findings stick, it plans to use wide-ranging powers available under section 6 of TSCA. These allow it to ban or restrict the manufacture, import, processing and use of a substance, but have only been applied to five of the 80,000 chemicals on the TSCA inventory.

The EPA hopes to use these powers on some or all of the eight phthalates, but also on SCCPs and perfluorinated chemicals from 2012, depending on the outcome of ongoing work. Medium- and long-chain chlorinated paraffins may also be examined.

Manufacture of flame retardants penta- and octa-BDE is already banned but the EPA will publish a Significant New Use Rule later this year requiring 90 days’ notification from importers or manufacturers of articles containing the substances.

A voluntary phase-out of the remaining commercial PBDE, deca-BDE, by the end of 2013 was agreed by the EPA with two US producers and its largest importer.

US-based Albemarle and Chemtura plus Israeli firm ICL Industrial Products will phase out most uses of deca-BDE by the end of 2012, with an extra year for transport and military applications.

The deal was announced just two days after legislation to ban deca-BDE was introduced in the US House of Representatives. The bill’s sponsor Chellie Pingree still wants the bill to pass, to force companies to live up to their commitments.

Phil Hope of the European Brominated Flame Retardants Industry Panel said he was not aware of plans to phase out deca-BDE in the EU, where it is still used in textiles. Its use in electrical goods has been banned since 2008 (ENDS Report 399, p 15).

The EPA will also assess alternatives to the phthalates on the concern list and deca-BDE by 2012.

The eight phthalates in the action plan are: dibutyl phthtalate (DBP); di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP); butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP); diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP); di-n-pentyl phthalate (DnPP); di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP); diisononyl phthalate (DINP); diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP).

The first four, as well as SCCPs, are on the EU’s candidate list for authorisation (ENDS Report 419, p 53). DINP and DIDP are the highest production volume phthalates but are of lower concern.

The perfluorinated chemicals affected include the eight-carbon perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) as well as salts, precursors and analogues with six-carbon atoms or more. These are variously restricted under an EPA voluntary phase-out agreement for PFOA and by the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants but continue to enter the US in some articles. PFOS is also banned in the EU.