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Restrictions on methylene chloride, NMP, TCE apparently shelved by US EPA

Organisation - US EPA © Leonid Andronov -

The US EPA has signalled it is shelving proposals to restrict the use of the solvents methylene chloride (dichloromethane), n-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) and trichloroethylene (TCE).

The agency's new regulatory agenda, updated 14 December, also says the EPA does not expect to propose rules for reviewing confidential business information (CBI) claims related to TSCA inventory chemicals until 2019.

Section 6 of TSCA, which predates the 2016 amendments, gives the EPA power to ban or restrict a chemical if it concludes that it presents an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. The agency issued three proposed section 6 rules in the Obama administration's final days in January 2017.

One would restrict the use of methylene chloride and NMP for all consumer and most commercial paint removal. Two separate proposals would prohibit the use of TCE in vapour degreasing and as an aerosol degreaser and spot cleaner.

Updated agenda

On 14 December, the EPA, along with all federal agencies, published a semi-annual regulatory agenda that lists the status of pending proposals.

The methylene chloride/NMP rule, as well as the TCE proposal regarding vapour degreasing, were moved to the "long-term action" list of items the EPA does not plan to act on within a year, with no projected date for further action. When an agency does this, it often means it is abandoning the issue.

The second TCE rule had already been moved to "long-term action" when the regulatory agenda was last updated on 24 August.

The August version of the agenda indicated that the EPA intended to propose an amended proposal on methylene chloride and NMP, and some observers held out hope that the agency might proceed. The EPA held a 12 September workshop on the use of methylene chloride in furniture refinishing, which it had explicitly excluded from its initial rule.

"All three chemicals have been extensively studied and associated with both illness and death," Daniel Rosenberg, senior attorney at the National Resource Defence Council (NRDC), wrote in his blog. "The next death(s) due to inhalation of methylene chloride will truly be on the hands of Scott Pruitt, Nancy Beck and President Trump."

Environmental groups characterised the new agenda as solid evidence that under the Trump administration, the EPA agency will not take any action on toxic chemicals that is not mandated.

"The EPA is moving forward on establishing general processes, initiating reviews of chemicals, and meeting direct mandates in the law that industry supports," wrote Richard Denison, lead senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). "But almost across the board, the Trump EPA is slow-walking actions that would prohibit or limit companies' ability to make and use chemicals."

TCE, NMP and methylene chloride are still among the first ten substances undergoing risk evaluation under the new TSCA, and industry has argued that the EPA should defer to that process. Industry groups have attacked the section 6 proposals on procedural grounds and argued that the agency improperly relied on old risk assessments.

CBI rules

The CBI regulation was also moved to the long-term agenda in the December update, although it is required by TSCA. The notice says the EPA expects to propose a rule in January 2019 and finalise it by the end of that year.

Companies were required to submit substantiating information for CBI claims by October. But the EPA has not set ongoing rules for how CBI claims will be evaluated or what it will report to the public.

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