The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released action plans to address the potential health risks of benzidine dyes, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) and nonylphenol (NP) nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). The chemicals are widely used in both consumer and industrial applications, including dyes, flame retardants, and industrial laundry detergents. EPA’s plans identify a range of actions the agency is considering under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
According to Environmental Law and Policy Center, NPEs are gender-bending chemicals that cause reproductive and developmental harm. Exposure to low levels of NPE has been shown to create “intersex” fish—male fish that produce female egg proteins. Cases of such “inter-sexed” fish have been documented from the Potomac River to the Pacific coast, the organization said in a press release.
“We know these chemicals are highly toxic and we know there are safer alternatives,” said Albert Ettinger, a senior attorney with ELPC. “If we want to protect public health, then NPEs should stop being used for many of their current applications. This action by the EPA is an important step in that direction.”
The range of actions for these chemicals include adding HBCD and NP/NPE to EPA’s new Chemicals of Concern list, issuing significant new use rules for all three chemicals, and, for HBCD and benzidine dyes, imposing new reporting requirements on EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory and potentially banning or limiting the manufacture or use of the chemicals.
According to EPA, the Textile Rental Services Association, which represents 98 percent of the industrial laundry facilities in the U.S., has committed to voluntarily phase out the use of NPEs in industrial liquid detergents by Dec. 31, 2013 and industrial powder detergents by the end of 2014.
EPA first announced that it planned to develop the Chemicals of Concern list last December, which indicates that listed chemicals may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health and the environment. TSCA, enacted in 1976, had been virtually unused for the past decade until legislation to modernize the act was introduced earlier this year.
In 2007, Sierra Club, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Workers United, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Washington Toxics Coalition petitioned the EPA under TSCA to require further toxicity testing of NPEs and to take steps to control it. EPA largely denied the petition.
The coalition of groups praised EPA for taking action on the chemicals. Eric Frumin, health and safety director for Workers United/SEIU commended administrator Jackson “for acting swiftly on these hazards, and call upon the laundry industry to get rid of these chemicals immediately, as they have already done Canada and in Connecticut.”