Friday, August 20, 2010

HBCD - A Flame Retardant by Any Other Name

As mentioned previously, EPA has issued three new "action plans" for chemicals that they believe need greater attention.  One of these is Hexabromocyclododecane, or thankfully, simply HBCD.  So what is the big deal with HBCD?  Well, according to EPA, HBCD is "used as a flame retardant in expanded polystyrene foam in the building and construction industry, as well as consumer products."  That means it gets into a lot of houses, or at least into the foam insulation used in a lot of houses and other buildings.

EPA also says that HBCD is "persistent, bioaccumulative and can undergo long-range atmospheric transport." These have become big qualifiers for chemical concern.  If something is persistent it means it can stay in the environment for a very long time.  And if it is bioaccumulative it means all that chemical in the environment could possibly build up in the bodies of plants and/or animals, then the animals that eat those plants or animals, then the animals that eat those animals, etc.  But the "long-range atmospheric transport" is an added concern.  That means that the chemical could persist and bioaccumulate not only near where it is released into the environment, but in remote locations like the Arctic. 

Add in EPA's contention that "studies show HBCD is highly toxic to aquatic organisms" and that "health concerns include potential reproductive, developmental and neurological effects in humans," and you have the reason why they feel they need a plan of action.

But as I've discussed in the past, these actions are planned for the future, or in some cases, just the consideration of taking action is planned for the future.  Given the old adage that a plan is obsolete as soon as it is printed, the actual actions taken by EPA and industry could be much different when they actually take place.  But for now, EPA's plan to deal with HBCD is to:

  • Consider initiating TSCA §5(b)(4) Concern List rulemaking on HBCD. Proposed rule in late 2011.
  • Initiate TSCA §5(a)(2) Significant New Use Rule to designate HBCD use in consumer textiles as a flame retardant as a significant new use.
  • Consider initiating rulemaking under TSCA §6(a) to regulate HBCD.
  • Initiate rulemaking to add HBCD to the Toxics Release Inventory. Action expected in late 2011.
  • Conduct a Design for the Environment and Green Chemistry alternatives assessment of HBCD.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nonylphenols and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates - Why the EPA Action Plan?

Yesterday I noted that three new action plans had been posted by EPA in their continuing efforts to deal with chemicals they believe are in need of immediate review.  One of them is Nonylphenol (NP) and its cousin Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (NPE).  So what does EPA want, and why?

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.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

EPA Issues Three New Action Plans to Assess Flame Retardants, Dyes and NonylPhenols

The USEPA posted on their web site three new "action plans" in their continuing efforts to "strengthen and reform chemical management" and make the most of the authority under the current chemicals law, TSCA, while Congress debates ways to modernize it.  These plans summarize EPA's intent to regulate potential health risks of benzidine dyes, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) and nonylphenol (NP)/nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). According to their release, "the chemicals are widely used in both consumer and industrial applications, including dyes, flame retardants, and industrial laundry detergents."

Benzidine dyes are primarily "used in the production of textiles, paints, printing inks, paper, and pharmaceuticals."  EPA's main concern is the potential for these dyes "to be leached from textiles, such as clothing, that are in prolonged contact with human skin." According to the action plan, EPA believes that the following actions would be warranted:
      1. Initiate rulemaking to add four benzidine-based dyes to an existing TSCA section 5(a)(2) significant new use rule (SNUR) for benzidine-based substances at 40 CFR 721.1660. A SNUR requires manufacturers who intend to use a chemical for the identified significant new use to submit an application to the Agency for review prior to beginning that activity.
      2. Initiate rulemaking to establish a new TSCA section 5(a)(2) SNUR for benzidine congener-based dyes, including 44 specific such dyes.
      3. Consider proposing to eliminate the article exemption applied to SNURs to address potential concerns for exposure to these dyes on imported finished textiles.
      4. Consider initiating action under TSCA section 6, if EPA learns that these dyes are present in imported finished textiles.
      5. Consider additional regulatory action, if EPA determines that there are other ongoing uses for these dyes and needs to obtain information necessary to determine whether those uses present concerns which need to be addressed.

Similar actions are planned for nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates.  NP and NPE are "nonionic surfactants that are used in a wide variety of industrial applications and consumer products. Many of these, such as laundry detergents, are “down-the-drain” applications."  EPA is especially concerned because NP and NPEs are manufactured in very large volumes, and due to their common usage in detergents lead to "to widespread release to the aquatic environment."  NP is persistent, bioaccumulative and extremely toxic in the environment, and according to EPA "has also been shown to exhibit estrogenic properties in in vitro and in vivo assays.

The third action plan is for the brominated flame retardant, hexabromocyclododecane.  HBCD is "used in expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) in the building and construction industry, as well as in consumer products. People may be exposed to HBCD from products and dust in the home and workplace, as well as its presence in the environment."  EPA's concern with HBCD is that it is persistent, bioaccumulates, can be transported long distances, and there are "animal test results indicating potential reproductive, developmental and neurological effects."

I'll take a look at these further in future posts, but for now you can access the full documents at:

Benzidine Dyes

NP and NPE


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

California OEHHA to Hold Public Workshop on Green Chemistry

As I noted last week, California EPA's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) issued a "pre-regulatory draft" of a hazards traits document. Now they have announced that next week, Monday, August 23, 2010, OEHHA will hold a workshop to discuss the draft, which is called "Green Chemistry Hazard Traits, Endpoints, and Other Relevant Data."

According to OEHHA, the draft document:
"identifies and defines the hazard traits; lists general categories of endpoints and other relevant data for each toxicological and environmental hazard trait; provides general methods for determining whether or not a chemical has a toxicological hazard trait; and provides specific methods for determining whether or not a chemical has carcinogenicity, developmental toxicity or reproductive toxicity hazard traits." 
The workshop will take place at the California EPA headquarters in Sacramento.  For more information on the workshop, timing and directions go to the OEHHA page.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Nanomaterial Case Study: Nanoscale Silver in Disinfectant Spray

According to a Federal Register notice published on Friday, August 13th, EPA is announcing the release of a draft document entitled “Nanomaterial Case Study:  Nanoscale Silver in Disinfectant Spray" and opening it up for a 45-day public comment period (which ends September 27, 2010). The draft was issued by the National Center for Environmental Assessment within EPA's Office of Research and Develpment, and is "intended to serve as part of a process to help identify and prioritize scientific and technical information that could be used in conducting comprehensive environmental assessments of selected nanomaterials."  At this point the document doesn't draw any safety conclusions regarding nanoscale silver, just what is known and unknown so that they can make decisions on what to require for future assessments. 

The document can be found on the NCEA web site

From the site, "engineered nanoscale materials...have been described as having at least one dimension between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm). They often have novel or unique properties that can arise from their small size.  Like all technological developments, nanomaterials offer the potential for both benefits and risks.  The assessment of such risks and benefits requires information, but given the nascent state of nanotechnology, much remains to be learned about the characteristics and effects of nanomaterials."