The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new rules on Nov. 20 to limit exposure to two types of flame retardants and minimize releases into waterways.
The proposals apply to decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE) and phenol, isopropylated, phosphate (3:1), or PIP 3.1:, which are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals, according to the EPA.
The substances are subject to risk management rules under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The aim of the proposed rule is to further protect people from exposure to the chemicals.
The EPA is looking to implement workplace safety protections, restrict water releases and require disclosure of products containing the substances throughout the supply chain.
TSCA directed EPA to take expedited action on five PBT chemicals to reduce exposure and protect human health and the environment, and EPA finalized risk management rules in early January 2021. In February 2021, EPA announced that it would review actions taken under the previous administration to ensure the agency followed the science and the law. EPA also noted at that time that 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.
After a public comment period, the EPA is seeking to amend two of those five rules. The agency 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.
DecaBDE is a flame retardant used in wire and cables for nuclear power generation facilities and multiple applications for aerospace and automotive vehicles including replacement parts. EPA has previously worked to reduce exposures from the larger class of flame retardants that include decaBDE, known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers. The EPA has identified adverse human health effects associated with exposure to decaBDE, including damage to the development of the central nervous system and reproductive problems. Accordingly, the EPA prohibited manufacturing, processing and distribution in commerce of decaBDE and decaBDE-containing products or articles in its 2021 final rule, with a few exceptions.
This new proposed rule would require that workers use personal protective equipment 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 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 allows for the nuclear power generation industry 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, the EPA stated in a news release.
PIP (3:1) is a plasticizer, a flame retardant, an anti-wear additive or 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 is also used in key consumer and commercial goods, such as 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, the EPA stated. The agency has identified adverse human health effects associated with exposure to PIP (3:1), including reproductive problems, neurological effects and damage to the liver, ovaries, heart and lungs.
Previously, EPA extended the compliance dates 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 to October 2024. Except for the exclusions and phase-outs for specific uses mentioned below, EPA is not proposing to further extend the October 2024 compliance date.
In this rule, EPA proposes to further extend the compliance dates for some articles used in manufacturing equipment and the semiconductor industry. The proposed rule also includes new worker protections, including a requirement that workers use PPE during manufacturing and processing of PIP (3:1).
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. 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.
In the coming weeks, the EPA said it will host a public webinar for anyone looking for an overview of the proposed regulatory action.