The EPA recently released a proposed rule to further protect people from exposure to two chemicals that are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT). Both chemicals—decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE) and phenol, isopropylated phosphate (3:1) (PIP (3:1))—are already subject to risk management rules under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
The proposed rule would impose workplace safety protections and restrict water releases, as well as address broader implementation issues affecting the supply chains of various industry sectors, including the nuclear energy sector, transportation, construction, agriculture, forestry, mining, life sciences, and semiconductor production.
“[PBT] chemicals can remain in the environment and our bodies for long periods of time, which makes it particularly important that EPA ensures protections are in place for these chemicals,” said Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff in an EPA news release.
DecaBDE is a flame retardant used in wire and cables for nuclear power generation facilities and in multiple applications for aerospace and automotive vehicles, including replacement parts.
“The EPA has previously worked to reduce exposures from the larger class of flame retardants that include decaBDE, known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers,” the Agency news release adds.
The adverse health risks associated with exposure to decaBDE include damage to the development of the central nervous system and reproductive problems.
Accordingly, manufacturing, processing, and distribution in commerce of decaBDE and decaBDE-containing products or articles were prohibited by the EPA in its 2021 final rule, with a few exceptions.
This new proposed rule would require workers to use personal protective equipment (PPE) for some activities involving decaBDE not subject to the 2021 prohibitions; prohibit releases to water during manufacturing, processing, and distribution in commerce of decaBDE and decaBDE-containing products; and require entities intending to export decaBDE-containing wire and cable for nuclear power generation facilities to notify the EPA.
The rule would also extend the compliance date for processing and distribution in commerce of decaBDE-containing wire and cable insulation for use in nuclear power generation facilities until after the service life of the wire and cable. This extended compliance date is intended to give the nuclear power generation industry time to move to alternatives to decaBDE-containing wire and cable that play a vital role in the operation of numerous safety systems required by federal regulations for both safe operation and safe shutdown of nuclear facilities. Nuclear facilities need qualified wire and cable to operate safely, and new types of wire and cable can take years to be certified consistent with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations.
PIP (3:1) is a plasticizer, a flame retardant, an anti-wear additive, and an anti-compressibility additive that has been used in hydraulic fluid, lubricating oils, lubricants and greases, various industrial coatings, adhesives, sealants, and plastic articles. It can also be found in consumer and commercial goods, including cellular telephones, laptop computers, and other electronic and electrical devices and industrial and commercial equipment used in various sectors, including transportation, construction, agriculture, forestry, mining, life sciences, and semiconductor production.
PIP (3:1) is toxic to aquatic plants, aquatic invertebrates, sediment invertebrates, and fish. Adverse human health effects associated with exposure to PIP (3:1) include reproductive problems; neurological effects; and damage to the liver, ovaries, heart, and lungs.
Previously, the EPA extended the compliance dates to October 2024 for articles containing PIP (3:1) to address the challenges that were inadvertently created by the original compliance dates in the January 2021 final rule.
The proposed regulation also further extends the compliance dates for some articles used in manufacturing equipment and the semiconductor industry. Additionally, it includes new worker protections, along with a requirement that workers use PPE during manufacturing and processing of PIP (3:1).
The EPA has also proposed phasing out some uses of PIP (3:1) that were excluded from the prohibitions in the February 2021 rule.
For example, some uses of PIP (3:1) in lubricants and greases that were excluded from the prohibitions in the previous rule would be subject to a 5-year phaseout under this proposed rule. The EPA is also proposing to exclude the processing and distribution of PIP (3:1) for use in wire harnessing and electric circuit boards from prohibition.
TSCA directed the EPA to take expedited action on five PBT chemicals. Those risk management rules were finalized in early January 2021. In February 2021, the EPA announced it would review actions taken under the previous administration to ensure the Agency followed the science and the law. At that time, after the rules were finalized, “manufacturers of a wide range of key consumer and commercial goods informed EPA that they were unable to meet compliance deadlines in the rules and warned of widespread economic disruption if changes were not made,” according to the Agency news release.
“In March 2021, in light of Executive Orders and other guidance provided by the Biden-Harris Administration, EPA opened a public comment period to collect additional comments on whether the rules sufficiently reduced exposures to the PBT chemicals, on implementation issues associated with the PBT final rules, and on whether to consider additional or alternative measures. This rule proposes to amend two of those five rules. EPA is not proposing to revise the existing regulations for the other three PBT chemicals (2,4,6-tris(tert-butyl)phenol (2,4,6-TTBP), hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD) and pentachlorothiophenol (PCTP)) at this time.”
Comments on the proposed rule can be made on the Federal eRulemaking Portal under Docket # EPA–HQ–OPPT–2023–0376 until January 8, 2024.