This SNUR is not a SNORE!

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

Yesterday EPA finalized a significant new use rule (SNUR) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that requires manufacturers and importers of certain perfluorinated chemicals to notify EPA at least 90 days before commencing any “significant new use” of these chemicals.  (See below for what EPA has designated to be a “significant new use.”)

These notifications afford EPA an opportunity to evaluate the designated new uses before they start and address any risks the new uses may pose.  Read on to learn more about some novel aspects of this final rule, including the scope of what EPA has designated as significant new uses of these chemicals. 

This SNUR targets two types of perfluorinated chemicals:  perfluoroalkyl sulfonates (PFAS) and long-chain perfluoroalkyl carboxylates (LCPFAC).   As required under TSCA to issue a SNUR, EPA has determined that certain new or reinitiated uses of these chemicals may present an “unreasonable risk” to human health or the environment.  The rule notes: “PFAS and LCPFAC chemical substances are found world-wide in the environment, wildlife, and humans [detected in human blood, breast milk, and umbilical cord blood].  They are toxic to laboratory animals, producing reproductive, developmental, and systemic effects in laboratory tests.”  (See my colleague Rachel Shaffer’s blog post that highlights recent research into the risks of perfluorinated chemicals.)

Described below are more details of the finalized SNUR:

  • PFAS chemicalsEPA is amending an existing PFAS SNUR  to include seven additional PFAS chemicals that were reviewed under EPA’s new chemicals program but the manufacture of which has not started.  EPA has designated any new manufacture, import, and processing of these substances as a significant new use, which must be notified to EPA at least 90 days before these activities are initiated. 
  • LCPFAC chemicals.  With the exception of ongoing uses of two LCPFAC chemicals in after-market carpet cleaning products, EPA has designated any manufacture, import, or processing of LCPFAC substances for use in carpets or for treating carpets as a significant new use, which must be notified to EPA at least 90 days before these activities are initiated.  In addition, the notification requirement extends to the articles themselves, covering both domestic manufacture and import of carpets that contain these substances.

There are two aspects of the SNUR to highlight.  First, the PFAS SNUR is targeting seven chemicals whose production or import has not yet even occurred.  That is, EPA’s review of these substances has led the agency to be concerned about any potential use of these chemicals. 

Second, the LCPFAC SNUR appropriately lifts an exemption for articles that is usually applicable to SNURs.  Translation:  Typically SNURs apply only to chemicals and NOT to articles containing them (in this case, carpets).  To date, EPA has lifted this exemption in only three other cases (EDF and Earthjustice submitted comments strongly supporting EPA’s proposal to lift the article exemption in pending test and significant new use rules targeting the flame retardants, PBDEs)

The importance to public health of extending rules to articles is that it closes a loophole that would otherwise lead to continued exposure to chemicals subject to restrictions on production and import, by allowing their use in articles being imported into the U.S. 

For more on why EPA took this action, see the agency’s blog post


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