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Chemical Regulation

US EPA delays PIP (3:1) ban over supply chain concerns

Agency plans to propose new rules for 5 persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals

by Britt E. Erickson
September 7, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 33

Bundle of USB charging cords
Credit: Shutterstock
Retailers, distributors, and importers are struggling to identify whether electronic products such as charging cords contain the toxic chemical phenol, isopropylated, phosphate (3:1).

The US Environmental Protection Agency will not enforce a ban on phenol, isopropylated, phosphate (3:1) [PIP (3:1)] until at least March 8, 2022 “to ensure that supply chains are not disrupted for key consumer and commercial goods,” the agency announced Sept. 3. PIP (3:1) is used as a flame retardant, plasticizer, and additive in a wide range of products, including electronics and automobiles.

The move comes after importers, distributors, and retailers of electronic goods and other products raised concerns about the ban. They claim that identifying PIP (3:1) in those articles is challenging and that it will take years to survey the complex global supply chain.

The EPA banned the processing and distribution of PIP (3:1) and four other persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals in January 2021. Those four chemicals are:

Decabromodiphenyl ether, a flame retardant

Hexachlorobutadiene, found in rubber and lubricants and used as a solvent

Pentachlorothiophenol, used to soften rubber

2,4,6-Tris(tert-butyl)phenol, a fuel or lubricant additive

After Congress gave the EPA new authorities under 2016 revisions to the Toxic Substances Control Act, the agency took quick action to reduce exposures to the five chemicals because of their high toxicity and persistence in the environment. Instead of conducting risk evaluations for the substances, the EPA chose to immediately control their uses.

The EPA is now planning to propose new rules for all five PBT chemicals in the spring of 2023 “to further reduce exposures, promote environmental justice, and better protect human health and the environment,” the agency said. In the meantime, the rules remain in effect, except for the rule on PIP (3:1).

The EPA is not opposed to extending the ban on PIP (3:1) beyond March 8, 2022, but first it wants industry to provide information on specific uses of PIP (3:1) throughout the supply chain, steps taken to identify substitute chemicals for those uses, and an estimate of any additional time required to gather such information.

Lawyers who work closely with the chemical industry are questioning whether the EPA fully understands the challenges in identifying whether PIP (3:1) is present in every part of a device as complex as a computer, particularly when many parts are imported.



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