Widely Used Chemicals Can’t Be Included In New Use Rule, Manufacturers Tell EPA

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By Pat Rizzuto

Jan. 22 — Automakers, aircraft manufacturers, chemical companies and other manufacturers tell the Environmental Protection Agency their ongoing uses of nonylphenols and nonylphenol ethoxylates preclude the agency from including the chemicals in a proposed significant new use rule.

“Many of the NP and NPE Chemical Abstracts Service numbers listed in the proposed SNUR are in fact in commerce and have been for decades,” the Alkylphenols & Ethoxylates Research Council told the agency in comments on the proposal.

“It is well-established that the agency may not issue a SNUR for an ongoing use of a chemical substance,” the American Cleaning Institute said in its comments.

The agency's proposed regulation raises a complicated nomenclature issue that involves the ways these chemicals have been identified for decades, the American Chemistry Council and other industry associations said.

The nomenclature issue would best be addressed through the development of guidance with industry, they said.

Water utilities, meanwhile, told the agency it should regulate the chemicals, which can harm aquatic life.

The Environmental Defense Fund urged the agency to include human health concerns in its regulatory rationale to make the rulemaking more defensible.

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SNUR Would Cover 15 Chemicals

Companies, trade associations, water utility groups and the Environmental Defense Fund were commenting on a significant new use rule (SNUR) the EPA proposed Oct. 1, 2014 (79 Fed. Reg. 59,186).

Comments were due Jan. 15.

The rule would apply to 15 nonylphenols and nonylphenol ethoxylates. It would designate any use of 13 of the chemicals to be a “significant new use,” warranting the agency's oversight. For the remaining two chemicals, the EPA proposed that any use other than being an intermediate or an epoxy cure catalyst would constitute a significant new use, warranting its oversight.

Nonylphenols are used to make other chemicals, in particular nonylphenol ethoxylates, and to harden or “cure” epoxies. NPEs can be found in home care, personal hygiene, automotive and other consumer products, the EPA said in the proposed rule. They also are used in engine and battery cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, paints, metal polishers, stain pretreatments, sealants, wallpaper removers and other chemical mixtures.

The chemicals persist in the environment, bioaccumulate to some extent up the food chain and are and highly toxic to aquatic organisms, the EPA said.

“Exposure occurs through industrial and wastewater discharges that ultimately reach surface waters and sediments. NPs and NPEs can potentially cause ecological effects on all trophic levels of aquatic species exposed to them in freshwater and saltwater ecosystems,” the agency said.

Specific Examples of Ongoing Uses Provided 

The Boeing Co. voiced concerns shared by many other companies and trade associations that submitted comments.

“Boeing believes that EPA has not adequately accounted for many ongoing uses of some of the listed NP and NPEs,” the company said. It identified five of the chemicals named in EPA's proposed SNUR and ways the aerospace industry uses them.

Additional chemicals listed in the SNUR may be in use, and there may be additional uses of those chemicals not mentioned in the chart the company provided the agency, Boeing said.

In joint comments, the Association of Global Automakers Inc. and Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers told the EPA their members use the same five chemicals cited by Boeing and six additional chemicals for various purposes, including hardening, coloring, cleaning and dispersing other chemicals.

“These applications need to be recognized as exempt from any SNUR requirements,” the auto groups told the EPA. Companies represented by the two organizations include Aston Martin, the BMW Group, Ferrari, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Toyota and Volvo Cars of North America.

The American Coatings Association and National Association for Surface Finishing identified ongoing uses for several of the same NPs and NPEs as Boeing and the auto groups cited and named several additional chemicals listed in the SNUR that they said their members are using.

The two associations joined the other companies and trade groups in asking the EPA to exempt any chemicals with ongoing uses.

The American Chemistry Council put it succinctly: “EPA has no authority to issue SNURs for uses which are ongoing.”

Nomenclature: Linear Versus Branched

The American Chemistry Council addressed a nomenclature issue mentioned in several other industry comments.

Nonylphenols and nonylphenol ethoxylates are class 2 chemicals, or “chemical substances of unknown or variable composition, complex reaction products and biological materials.” The precise shape and molecular makeup of these chemicals can vary slightly due to natural variations in their petroleum feedstock or other feedstock.

The agency's SNUR is based on the idea that the majority of the chemicals the rule would address are linear (log shaped) not branched (tree shaped), the chemistry council said.

That supposition may result from informal guidance the agency issued in 1995 without public comment, the council said.

“That guidance document explains that where alkyl chains are not identified as branched they are assumed to be linear,” the council said.

Based on that supposition, the EPA thought ongoing uses of the branched NPs and NPEs would not be covered by the SNUR, the council continued.

Industry Practice: Both Shapes Covered 

Yet EPA did not refer to that guidance in the proposed rule, nor in many of the materials it has developed over the years that discuss nonylphenols and nonylphenol ethoxylates, said both the council and Afton Chemical Corp.

“Internationally, industry continues to regard linear-based CAS [Chemical Abstracts Service] names as applicable to branched NPs and NPEs,” Afton said. “EPA should take industry practice into account.”

Afton and the ACC urged the agency to work with nonylphenols and nonylphenol ethoxylates manufacturers, importers, processors and users to address the chemical identity issue rather than proceeding with the proposed SNUR.

For example, the agency could offer a defined period of time during which chemical manufacturers could correct the names of their chemicals within the Toxic Substances Control Act inventory, Afton and the ACC said.

NPs and NPEs that may be branched could have “branched” specifically added to their names, the chemistry council said.

Water Utility Concerns

The Water Environment Federation (WEF), a not-for-profit organization representing water quality professionals, and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, stressed their desire to protect the quality of the water they treat.

The federation did not comment on the substance of the proposed rule. Instead it encouraged the EPA to help publicly owned treatment works identify sources of nonylphenols and nonylphenol ethoxylates in their service areas, so the POTWs could take protective measures.

San Francisco's Water Quality Control Board endorsed the proposed SNUR but asked the agency to expand its scope.

As proposed, the rule would not apply to nonylphenols and nonylphenol ethoxylates in manufactured goods, called “articles,” the board said.

It provided the agency a scientific study that suggested at least one nonylphenol was used in toilet paper.

The EPA should expand the proposed rule to cover articles, including imported goods, the board said.

The agency also should specifically address the presence of nonylphenols in toilet paper, it said.

Environmental Defense

The Environmental Defense Fund urged the agency to include a full discussion of human health concerns associated with nonylphenols and nonylphenol ethoxylates in whatever final rule it issues.

The agency also should describe what additional regulatory steps or other actions it is taking or may take to address risks with NPs and NPEs not named in the proposed rule and with ongoing uses that cannot be addressed through a SNUR.

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

The EPA's proposed SNUR is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=prio-9szr9n.

Submitted comments are available at Docket No. EPA-HQ-OPPT-2007-0490 via http://www.regulations.gov/.