EPA Denies WA State Ecology’s Request to Reduce Allowable PCB Concentrations

On April 4, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formally denied a request from the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) to reduce allowable inadvertent polychlorinated biphenyls (iPCBs) limits in consumer products. Ecology petitioned EPA three months ago in January of 2024 as a result of a bill passed last year requiring Ecology to petition the EPA to reexamine the federal PCB limits under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). 

Originally, the bill called for a ban on the use of chlorinated pigments in inks and coatings and it met with stiff resistance by PRINTING United Alliance and other business groups. The Alliance launched a successful action alert encouraging its members in Washington State to contact their representatives opposing the bill. The bill was fundamentally flawed because it assumed that any pigment used in an ink formulation that contains a chlorine atom was equivalent to one that contains PCBs. Approximately 150 pigments contain chlorine in their chemical structure, including those used in process yellow and cyan inks. Banning all chlorinated pigments would cripple the printing industry, based on the false assumption about PCBs always being present when chlorinated pigments are manufactured. 

EPA banned the manufacturing and distribution of PCBs in the 1970’s. However, the regulations do allow for trace concentrations of inadvertent PCBs that are produced as a byproduct of manufacturing processes. Inadvertent PCBs are created when certain pigments are produced. These pigments are then used to formulate inks to manufacture products and some PCB is released when printed paper and packaging is recycled.  

The bill was introduced into the legislature because Ecology was prohibited from regulating inks under its Safer Products program. The Alliance was opposed to regulating inks under this program and voiced its resistance numerous times during meetings or in formal comments. Ecology suspended action under the program because they discovered they are preempted by federal TSCA regulations. Ecology sought to advance regulating iPCBs in inks by having legislation passed that would ban chlorinated pigments in inks.  

The ban on chlorinated pigments in inks and coatings failed to pass due to the efforts by the Alliance and its members. What did pass was a mandate for Ecology to petition EPA to reduce the allowable PCB concentration in the TSCA regulations. The current TSCA limit is 25 parts per million on average, not to exceed 50 parts per million. Based on the testing conducted by Ecology on ink samples, each one was found to meet the TSCA limit, with many of them being well below the limits.  

The primary motivator for why Ecology wants to regulate iPCBs in inks and coatings is they believe they are a significant source of PCBs that make it to the waterways in the state. The current water quality limit for PCBs in Washington State is 7 parts per quadrillion, which is extremely low. The standard is so low that a lawsuit was filed in December of 2023 challenging the standard because it is “impossible to meet”. The standard is so low that there is no way to measure it consistently or reliably and it cannot be met with any state-of-the-art treatment technology. If the lawsuit is successful, it should help take the pressure off of regulating iPCBs in inks. 

In the April 4 denial of the petition, EPA concluded that Ecology failed to identify specific deficiencies in EPA's previous rulemaking when it set the TSCA PCB limits and did not meet the burden of establishing the necessity to amend the existing rule. EPA did acknowledge the concerns regarding PCBs but will continue to gather information and assess the risks associated with inadvertently generated PCBs. 

The denial was published on April 9, 2024, in the Federal Register, which now means Ecology has 60 days to decide if it wants to challenge EPA’s decision in court. So far, Ecology has not indicated if it will take legal action. The Alliance will continue to monitor the response from Ecology and will report on any developments.  

In this article, Gary Jones, VP of EHS Affairs, PRINTING United Alliance addresses environmental regulatory issues. More information about environmental regulations can be found at Business Excellence-EHS Affairs or reach out to Gary should you have additional questions specific to how these issues may affect your business:gjones@printing.org.    

To become a member of the Alliance and learn more about how our subject matter experts can assist your company with services and resources such as those mentioned in this article, please contact the Alliance membership team: 888-385-3588/membership@printing.org.    

Gary Jones Vice President of Environmental, Health, and Safety Affairs

Gary A. Jones is the Vice President of Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) Affairs at PRINTING United Alliance in Fairfax, VA. His primary responsibility is to monitor and analyze EHS regulatory activities at all domestic and some international government levels. He provides representation on behalf of the printing and specialty graphic imaging industry. Mr. Jones works closely with the federal and state-level Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and other agencies. He also provides membership assistance on EHS compliance and sustainability programs through a variety of approaches including responding to inquiries, presentations, writing, and consulting services.

He holds a BS in biology from LaRoche College and an MS in chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh.

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