EPA will Consider Styrene to Enter TSCA Rule Making
ACMA learned on October 2 that styrene is on an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) list of 15 substances that are being considered for regulation under the agency’s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) program.
In December, EPA is expected to publish in the Federal Register a notice proposing to require that industry submit any unpublished health and safety studies for the 15 chemicals. Following EPA evaluation of the submitted studies and the already available information, in late 2024 EPA is anticipated to select five of the 15 substances to propose as “high priority for risk evaluation”.
The ten substances on the list that are not selected as high priority in 2024 will likely remain as candidates EPA will consider for future TSCA prioritization.
Why is this important for the composites industry?
If styrene is selected for risk evaluation, this initiates a process leading to a TSCA risk management standard limiting use of the substance or adoption of controls to prevent unreasonable health risks to exposed workers and plant neighbors. Congress prohibited EPA from considering non-health impacts such as cost or feasibility of control, loss of employment or reduced availability of important products when setting exposure limits to prevent unreasonable risk.
If EPA follows the approach of California regulators for styrene risk evaluation, the TSCA risk management standard could require compliance with such low exposure limits that many uses of styrene to make composite products would be severely curtailed and strict workplace protections could be required for other uses. However, continuing research on styrene toxicity increasingly supports the conclusion that the health risk associated with working with styrene or living near plants emitting styrene is very low if appropriate precautions are taken.
Why is styrene on this list?
EPA could have placed styrene on this list for one or more of several reasons. Styrene is one of some 80 chemicals identified by Congress as priorities for rulemaking when TSCA was amended in 2016. Styrene is a major industrial chemical, used to make a wide range of products, with potentially exposed consumers, workers and fenceline communities. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified styrene as a “probable human carcinogen” in 2019. The existing comprehensive database of styrene toxicity studies means EPA can proceed with risk evaluation without needing to wait for industry to run additional tests. More broadly, styrene faces increased political scrutiny. Driven by concerns about mismanaged plastic waste in the environment, some members of Congress believe a TSCA rulemaking could have the effect of reducing the use of styrene to manufacture single-use polystyrene packaging materials.
What happens next?
For each of the five high priority substances selected in 2024, EPA will start the TSCA risk evaluation processes in 2025. After extensive review of the relevant toxicity data, this process will conclude with identification for each substance of the highest workplace and fenceline exposure levels that the agency believes will not cause “unreasonable” health risks.
Congress set a deadline of 3 years for EPA to complete each risk evaluation. EPA then has another 2 years to issue risk management standards that will require adoption of measures by industry that the agency believes are necessary to prevent unreasonable risk. Industry could be required to comply shortly after issuance of a standard, potentially as early as 2029 or 2030 for chemicals prioritized in 2024.
If EPA does not select styrene as high priority in 2024 it will likely remain as a candidate EPA will consider for future TSCA prioritization.
What is ACMA doing?
ACMA recently began educating EPA staff about the use of styrene to make composite products. This education process should continue. We want to impress the agency that composites manufacturers using styrene make products that are needed to address the Biden Administration’s priorities such as generating electricity from wind, preventing pollution, and building a resilient and sustainable infrastructure, and that this industry of mostly smaller companies provides jobs in communities across the country.
Other trade associations representing companies using styrene might want to consider measures to increase awareness of the employment in, and important products made by, their members.
Where can I find additional information?
Information on health risks associated with exposure to styrene: www.styrene.org (Styrene Information and Research Center)
Questions about how TSCA could impact the composites industry: John Schweitzer, ACMA VP EH&S and Sustainability, firstname.lastname@example.org.