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Chemical regulation: EPA cranks out toxics rules during Obama’s last days in office

Agency proposes processes for identifying and evaluating high-risk chemicals

by Britt E. Erickson
January 17, 2017

Credit: Shutterstock
EPA is proposing to ban or restrict two chemicals—methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone—in paint removers.
Metal scraper removing bubbling green paint.
Credit: Shutterstock
EPA is proposing to ban or restrict two chemicals—methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone—in paint removers.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s office that oversees the safety of chemicals in industrial and household products has been exceptionally busy in the final days of the Obama Administration. The office has been feverishly working to ensure that it meets several upcoming deadlines under the revised Toxic Substances Control Act. It has also been pushing out several proposed rules under TSCA that would ban or restrict certain uses of some high-risk solvents.

The revised TSCA, which was enacted in June 2016, gives EPA until June 2017 to develop processes for prioritizing high-risk chemicals and evaluating their safety. EPA must also develop a process by June for updating the chemical inventory to reflect only chemicals that are in current use. That means manufacturers need to provide EPA with information on chemicals they have made or used within the last 10 years.

EPA is well on its way toward meeting the one-year deadlines mandated under the new TSCA. The agency proposed three new rules on January 13 that provide, for the first time in 40 years, a foundation for prioritizing and evaluating high-risk chemicals in U.S. commerce.

Among the proposals are a rule that requires chemical manufacturers and importers to notify EPA of chemicals being produced, a rule to establish how EPA will choose chemicals for risk evaluation, and a rule that will establish how EPA evaluates the risks of chemicals.

“After 40 years we can finally address chemicals currently in the marketplace,” says James J. Jones, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety & Pollution Prevention. The action “will set into motion a process to swiftly evaluate chemicals and meet deadlines required under, and essential to, implementing the new law.”

The American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, commends EPA for releasing its proposed processes in time to meet the June deadlines under the new TSCA. But the group is urging the agency to provide clearer criteria for identifying low- and high-priority chemicals.

“The risk-based prioritization rule must do more than address procedural requirements,” ACC says in a statement. “It must explain how statutory decisions will be based on the best available science and the weight of the scientific evidence.” the group notes.

Likewise, environmental groups are applauding EPA for staying on schedule to meet the June deadlines. EPA staff “deserve major kudos for their tireless work over these past seven months to reach this milestone,” says Richard Denison, a lead senior scientist at the environmental group, Environmental Defense Fund.

EPA also last week released two proposals that would ban certain uses of three common solvents under TSCA. One proposal would ban trichloroethylene in vapor degreasers. The other would ban the use of methylene chloride in paint removers, and ban or restrict N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) in paint removers. EPA claims that it has identified unreasonable human health risks associated with such uses. Both rules have long been in the works at EPA, but their fate under the Trump Administration is uncertain.

EDF and other environmental groups are welcoming EPA’s proposed rule to ban methylene chloride in paint strippers, but they are urging the agency to take similar action against use of the toxic chemical in commercial furniture refinishing. EPA says that it will issue a separate proposed rule for commercial furniture refinishing uses after collecting additional information on the impacts of such a ban.


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