The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released an action plan addressing nonylphenol (NP) and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), used in a wide variety of industrial applications such as laundry detergents.
NPEs are considered highly toxic to aquatic organisms. When discharged from laundries into sewers, treated in public sewage plants, and discharged to these plants’ receiving waters, NPEs degrade into NP, which has been deemed extremely toxic to these organisms. Both NP and NPEs have been found in environmental samples taken from freshwater, saltwater, groundwater, sediment, soil and aquatic biota, EPA says.
EPA is initiating both voluntary and regulatory actions to manage potential risks from NP and NPEs. The agency intends to support and encourage the ongoing voluntary phase-out of NPEs in industrial laundry detergents.
In discussions with EPA, the Textile Rental Services Association of America (TRSA) agreed to expedite a phase-out of NPEs in industrial laundry detergents. The phase out, which has already begun, is being coordinated with the Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative (SDSI), part of EPA’s Design for the Environment program. The use of NPEs in industrial laundry detergents would end by 2013 for liquid detergents and 2014 for powder detergents.
“Phasing out NPE is the right thing to do,” stated TRSA President Joseph Ricci, “but it will not be easy. Detergent formulations are tailored specifically for use in laundering different textiles and soiling agents. So there is no single solution to replacing NPE. And our industry must provide the cleanliness that our customers require to do their jobs for their customers.”
“EPA understands that our industry inherently seeks to improve the quality of the environment,” said David Potack, chairman, TRSA Government Affairs Committee. “It is the very nature of our business to judiciously use water, energy, and chemistry to provide clean textile products to American industry. Our core competencies include recognizing how laundry chemicals affect our employees and communities. Replacing NPE has required an aggressive effort by chemical suppliers to reformulate the dozens of detergent products used by the industry. This reformulation continues in earnest. We feel the phase-out timetable is realistic and look forward to continuing our partnership with EPA throughout the development process.”
Other EPA actions include the initiation of rulemaking to simultaneously propose a significant new use rule (SNUR) and a test rule for NP and NPEs. Any business (including laundries) that chooses to initiate use of detergents and cleaning products containing these would be required to submit a significant new use notice (SNUN) to EPA at least 90 days before beginning that use. Such businesses would be required to install costly equipment to monitor their employees’ exposure to these chemicals. This gives EPA the opportunity to take other regulatory action if appropriate.
The EPA document also outlined the consideration of initiating rulemaking to add NP and NPEs to the Concern List of chemicals that present or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment, and to initiate rulemaking to add NP and NPEs to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which would require facilities to report releases of these chemicals to the environment.
Since 1999, TRSA and EPA have collaborated on the Laundry Environmental Stewardship Program (www.laundryesp.org). This has documented the industry’s steady decrease in its use of water, energy, and chemicals per pound of laundry washed. TRSA companies are committed to reducing their carbon footprint by adopting more effective work processes and using more efficient machinery. Also, TRSA has achieved Champion status in SDSI, which recognizes business that voluntarily commit to such chemistry. “We are pleased that the industry has decided to not wait for regulatory action to be completed by the agency and is voluntarily taking steps now to phase out the use of NPEs.” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. The EPA action plan can be found on the EPA’s Web site at: http://www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/actionplans/np-npe.html
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