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EPA proposes rules for chemicals and fuels made from plastic waste-based feedstocks

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued proposed rules under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for 18 chemicals made from plastic waste-derived feedstocks that would ensure they are free from unsafe contaminants before they can be used to make transportation fuels.

The proposed Significant New Use Rules (SNURs) would require notification to and review by EPA before these fuels could be made using plastic waste-derived feedstocks that contain impurities such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS); heavy metals; dioxins; bisphenols; and flame retardants.

These substances are known to cause cancer and harm the reproductive system, among other health effects. The proposed rules follow the Agency’s commitment in the draft National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution to ensure that feedstocks made from plastic waste do not contain impurities and are part of EPA’s overall efforts to reduce plastic pollution.

In January 2022, EPA announced a new effort to standardize the review of a growing number of applications for new transportation fuels made by mixing a small amount of bio-or waste-based feedstock oils into a much larger amount of petroleum-based oils, to make new chemical(s) during the refining process.

The 18 chemicals subject to the proposed SNURs were assessed under this effort and consent orders were issued outlining the restrictions that must be followed in order for the company to make them. To date, EPA has not received notices of commencement for any of these 18 chemicals, meaning the company has not started manufacturing them yet.

The plastic-based feedstocks used to make these fuels were reviewed and approved by EPA in 2015 and 2019. At the time they were approved, the companies provided some data on impurities and these data showed there were no impurities of concern, and in one case the Agency required some additional testing to prove no dioxins were being formed as a result of the pyrolysis process. However, EPA knew less about impurities that may be included in plastic-based feedstocks in 2015 and 2019 than it does today.

As a result, today’s proposed rules would require notification to and review by EPA before the manufacturing or processing of the chemicals using waste-derived feedstocks that contain any amount of the following: heavy metals (e.g., arsenic, cadmium, chromium VI, lead and mercury); dioxins; phthalates; PFAS; polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs); alkylphenols; perchlorates; benzophenone; bisphenol A (BPA); organochlorine pesticides (OCPs); ethyl glycol; methyl glycol; or n-methylpyrrolidone (NMP).

This requirement ensures fuels could not be lawfully manufactured or processed using waste-derived feedstocks containing these impurities without additional Agency review. Future consent orders for any new plastic waste-derived feedstocks would also contain requirements to address this issue.

Additionally, the proposed SNURs would ensure the safety requirements specified in the consent orders for these chemicals apply to all companies that wanted to manufacture them and would require companies to notify EPA before making, importing or processing these chemicals for uses other than those listed in the consent orders. In a separate rulemaking, EPA will propose SNURs for the chemicals made using bio-based feedstocks.

Upon publication of the Federal Register notice, EPA will accept public comments on the proposed SNURs for 30 days.

Additionally, once the Federal Register notices publishes, EPA’s risk assessment of the 18 chemicals subject to the proposed SNURs will be available under docket EPA-HQ-OPPT-2023-0245 at EPA will also making available a “Risk Summary and Characterization” of the 18 new chemicals to better explain the risk assessment by clarifying how EPA developed the hazard and exposure assessments and better characterize the risks found.


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