Thursday, August 19, 2010
Nonylphenols and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates - Why the EPA Action Plan?
Well to begin with, NP and NPEs are produced in extremely large amounts. And unlike some basic chemicals that are used primarily to make other chemicals, uses of these can, as EPA puts it, "lead to widespread release to the aquatic environment" (e.g., from industrial laundry detergent use). Add in the fact that NP is a PBT, i.e., it is persistent in the aquatic environment, has a low to moderate ability to bioaccumulate in animals, and is "extremely toxic" to aquatic organisms and you have legitimate cause for concern. One particular concern is that NP has been found in umbilical cord blood and breast milk, and "toxic burden" or "toxic trespass" (depending on your vantage point) is a hot button issue with most people. As is the possibility of estrogenic effects (i.e., endocrine disruption).
So EPA wants to get more information and take some steps to reduce the risks they have already identified. To do that they have proposed to work with the Textile Rental Services Association of America (TRSA) to continue with a phaseout of NPE use in industrial laundry detergents. The phase-out, already in progress, is being coordinated with EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) "Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative."
Besides voluntary industry efforts, EPA is also looking at rule-making, in particular a TSCA section 5 SNUR (significant new use rule) and a TSCA section 4 testing program. Both of these are authorities already given to EPA under the 34-year old TSCA law whose modernization has been the subject of debate for quite some time. EPA is also considering another option it has under section 5 of TSCA, which is to add NP and NPEs to the "Concern List," a list of chemicals for which they believe "present or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment." While the authority has always been there to create such a list, EPA has never used it.
Finally, EPA would initiate a rule-making to add NP and NPEs to the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). The TRI requires companies to report their emissions of a list of chemicals, though that list is pretty short when compared to the list of chemicals that were grandfathered onto another "inventory," the TSCA Inventory of existing substances that largely have received no testing or evaluation since being listed over 30 years ago.
The timing for these actions varies from later this year to next year to not for several years. Phase-outs obviously take time, as does the rule-making process in which EPA must propose a rule, allow a reasonable time for comments, address all of the comments received, and then issue a final rule with the appropriate revisions. Sometimes rules don't ever become final, but that's a subject for another post.