By Anthony Adragna
The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized an interpretation of
regulations governing the management and recycling of polychlorinated biphenyls
that it says will allow plastic materials recovered from metal recycling
facilities and automobiles to be recycled.
In a notice
published in the April 5 Federal Register, EPA said the interpretation
applies to plastic scraps that contain levels of polychlorinated biphenyls
(PCBs) that are less than 50 parts per million (78 Fed. Reg. 20,640).
“EPA is adopting the generic 50 ppm exclusion for the processing,
distribution in commerce, and use, based on the Agency's determination that the
use, processing, and distribution in commerce of products with less than 50 ppm
PCB concentration will not generally present an unreasonable risk of injury to
health or the environment,” the agency said in the notice.
EPA said its interpretation would generate environmental benefits and protect
human health by promoting recycling and preventing PCBs from entering the
EPA acknowledged it could not always determine the source of PCBs in the
plastics, and said the exclusion would not apply to plastics containing PCB
concentrations greater than 50 parts per million.
Section 6(e) of the Toxic Substances Control Act generally prohibits the
manufacture, processing, distribution, and use of PCBs, but a list of “excluded
PCB products” have been classified by EPA as suitable for use, processing, and
distribution. Those products must typically have concentrations of PCBs less
than 50 parts per million (40 C.F.R. pt. 761.20(a) and (c)).
Public comments received on the proposed interpretation were overwhelmingly
positive (37 CRR 173, 2/11/13).
Under the final interpretation of the rules, recyclers must follow a list of
voluntary procedures developed by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries
that are designed to prevent the introduction of PCBs into recycled plastics.
The procedures involve the development and introduction of a documented
materials management program.
ISRI told BNA that the interpretation would reduce consumption of oil by 30
million barrels annually, eliminate up to 5 million tons of carbon dioxide
emissions, and save more than 50 million cubic yards of landfill space.
“We are very grateful for the agency's recognition of the importance of
clarifying its regulations to create certainty for business and to enable much
more recycling,” Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, told BNA. “The technologies
for separating and recycling the plastics are already being employed in Europe
and Asia, and the agency's action will now allow similar investments to be made
here in the U.S., instead of overseas.”
ISRI had previously lobbied EPA for the interpretation on environmental and
economic grounds (36 CRR 1301, 12/10/12).
EPA said the decision would be of interest to private citizens, federal,
tribal, state and local governments, environmental consulting firms, industry
representatives, environmental organizations, and other public interest
The manufacture of PCBs was banned by EPA in 1979 after research linked them
to cancer and other health threats to the immune, reproductive, nervous, and
Lisa Evans, an attorney for Earthjustice who authored comments opposing the
interpretation, was not available for comment.
ISRI was not immediately available for comment.
The scheduled Federal Register notice announcing EPA's final
interpretation is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=aada-96fr6a.