US EPA lists phthalates, flame retardants on concern list

30 December 2009 20:46  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday placed two sets of chemicals - phthalates and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) - on a “chemicals of concern” list that could lead to increased regulations.

This marks the first time the EPA has used authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to list chemicals that “may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health and the environment”, the EPA said.

Once listed, chemical companies have the option to provide information to the EPA if they can demonstrate that their chemical does not pose an unreasonable risk, according to the agency.

The EPA said its actions represent the agency’s determination to use its authority under the existing TSCA to the fullest extent, while recognising the EPA’s belief that the 1976 law is outdated and in need of reform.

“The American people are understandably concerned about the chemicals making their way into our products, our environment and our bodies,” EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said.

Phthalates are a family of chemicals commonly used in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) applications to confer specific characteristics such as malleability and softness.

Among their wide range of applications, they are found in soft vinyl children’s toys and child-care articles, including certain squeeze or inflatable toys, dolls, animal figures, school supplies and vinyl bibs.

Chemical industry officials have previously opposed a prohibition on phthalates on grounds there is no scientific evidence of human health harm and that alternative plasticizers might pose unknown risks.

Leading US PVC producers include Shintech, Formosa Plastics and Georgia Gulf, among others.

Meanwhile, the listing of polybrominated diphenyl ethers is centered around concern over one particular PBDE - decabromodiphenyl ether - commonly referred to as deca-BDE or simply deca. Deca is widely used as a fire retardant in plastic housings for televisions and other consumer electronics and in mattresses and upholstered furniture.

The EPA contends that deca-BDE may potentially cause cancer and impact brain function, and announced that three US companies had agreed to phase out the chemical over the course of the next three years.

Several short-chain chlorinated paraffins and perfluorinated chemicals will also be subject to review, the EPA said.

If further examination confirms the suspected risks, regulations requiring significant risk reduction measures to protect human health and the environment would likely be implemented, the EPA said.

No timeline was given for the review process.

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By: Ben DuBose
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