Getting under the surfac-tants: EDF comments support EPA regulations to limit their risks

Lindsay McCormick is a Research AnalystRichard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist

Today EDF submitted comments supporting EPA’s proposal to limit the use of two groups of toxic chemicals that have historically been widely used as, or to make, surfactants in consumer and commercial cleaning products.  The chemicals, nonylphenols (NPs) and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), are produced in high volumes for a variety of industrial uses and consumer products, some of which have led to widespread water pollution.  The chemicals are highly toxic to aquatic organisms, and also pose significant potential human health risks.

In October, EPA proposed a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) for these chemicals that would require any company intending to begin manufacture or import of these chemicals to notify EPA prior to doing so, thereby allowing EPA to evaluate the risks associated with the proposed use of the chemical and to take action if appropriate.

SNURs are one of the few regulatory tools that EPA has to seek to restrict the use of chemicals under the nation’s outdated chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

While EDF’s comments generally support EPA’s proposed rule, they also raise some concerns.  Some highlights of our comments are described below.  

Human health effects of NPs and NPEs

EPA’s rationale for the proposed rule focuses exclusively on the aquatic toxicity of NPs and NPEs, despite good evidence and EPA’s recognition in previous documents that these chemicals pose a risk to human health as well (see here and here).  NPs and NPEs are recognized as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and data indicate they exhibit endocrine-disrupting properties in human cells (in addition to aquatic species).  NP exposure of laboratory mammals, used to model effects in humans, is also associated with reproductive and developmental effects.  Further, NP has been detected in human breast milk, blood, and urine.

EDF’s comments urge EPA to include mammalian toxicity studies and human exposure potential associated with NPs and NPEs in explaining its rationale for the proposed SNUR.  This is needed to:

  • provide a more robust basis for promulgating the SNUR;
  • establish a broader and more defensible basis for evaluating proposed new uses of these chemicals for human health concerns; and
  • highlight important data gaps for endocrine-disrupting effects in humans.

EDF also urges EPA to prioritize steps to fill these data gaps, including through promulgation of a TSCA Section 4 test rule.

Taking action beyond the SNUR

Based on data from EPA’s 2012 Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) program, EDF has identified four NPs and NPEs that are currently manufactured in or imported into the U.S. at 25,000 pounds or more per year.  The ongoing uses of these chemicals – by definition – cannot be addressed by the proposed SNUR.  EDF’s comments point out that their exclusion from the SNUR makes it all the more important that EPA clarifies what additional regulatory or other actions the Agency is planning to take to identify and address potential risks associated with these ongoing uses of NPs and NPEs.  Although promulgation of a SNUR is a significant step forward, it is only one of a number of steps needed to reduce or prevent human and environmental exposure to NPs and NPEs.

For more detailed information, please see the comments we filed today.


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