Assessing and Managing Chemicals under TSCA

Polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) Significant New Use Rules (SNUR)

On March 20, 2012, as part of the implementation of EPA's 2010 Action Plan on PBDEs, EPA proposed to amend its significant new use rule (SNUR) on PBDEs, and simultaneously proposed a TSCA section 4 test rule. Read the proposed PBDE SNUR/test rule.

Learn about EPA's action plan on PBDEs.

The 2012 proposal amends a June 13, 2006, Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) to require notification to EPA ninety days prior to US manufacture or import, for any use, of the commercial products pentaBDE and octaBDE after January 1, 2005. This action was a follow-up to a voluntary phase-out of these chemicals by Great Lakes Chemical Corporation (now Chemtura Corporation), the only U.S. manufacturer of pentaBDE and octaBDE. Production in the United States of these two chemicals ceased at the end of 2004.

This page explains the relationship between the existing 2006 SNUR and describes the proposed amendment to the SNUR and the accompanying proposed test rule.

What did the 2006 PBDE SNUR do?

The PBDE SNUR complemented the phase-out of two flame retardant chemicals. This regulation ensured that no new manufacture or import of these two chemicals could occur after January 1, 2005, without first being subject to EPA evaluation. The two chemicals, PentaBDE and OctaBDE, are members of the chemical family polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) and have been commonly used as flame retardants in commercial products such as furniture foam, plastics, fabrics, and appliances.

This procedure, known as a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR), allows EPA to designate any new manufacture or import as a "significant new use." Advance notification is required prior to commencing the new use. Thus before the chemical could be manufactured or imported for the significant new use, the company would be required to provide advance notification to EPA under section 5 of TSCA. This approach gives EPA the opportunity to evaluate any concerns, and if necessary, regulate future manufacture, import, or uses associated with these two chemicals.

Why was this important?

Over the course of several years, EPA evaluated scientific studies and available information, and there is growing evidence that PBDE chemicals bioaccumulate and are persistent in the environment, and that people are being exposed to them. For example, traces of the chemicals have been found in fish, in samples of human blood and in women's breast milk. Also, there is evidence that these chemicals may cause liver toxicity, thyroid toxicity, and neurodevelopmental toxicity. EPA considered that this rule was necessary to ensure that any new manufacture or import would be subject to Agency review.

How did this action complement the decision by the sole US manufacturer to phase out production by December 31, 2004?

This action built on the November 3, 2003, announcement by the Great Lakes Chemical Corporation (now Chemtura Corporation), the only U.S. manufacturer of these chemicals, who agreed to voluntarily phase-out production by December 31, 2004. In 2003, EPA commended the company for taking this responsible action. EPA was concerned that manufacture or import could be reinstated in the future, and thus believed it necessary to have the opportunity to evaluate any new manufacture or import associated with these chemicals.

How is the Agency proposing to amend this SNUR?

On March 20, 2012, EPA proposed to amend this existing SNUR by: (1) designating processing of any combination of the six PBDE congeners contained in c-pentaBDE or c-octaBDE for any use which is not ongoing, as a significant new use (2) designating manufacturing, importing, or processing of decaBDE for any use which is not ongoing after December 31, 2013, as a significant new use and (3) designating the manufacture (including import) or processing of any article to which PBDEs had been added a significant new use. Any person who intended to import a PBDE as part of an article for a significant new use would be subject to significant new use reporting. Ongoing uses would be excluded from the SNUR.

EPA simultaneously proposed a TSCA section 4 test rule for c-pentaBDE, c-octaBDE, and c-decaBDE. The test rule would require development of information necessary to determine the effects of manufacturing, processing, or other activities involving these c-PBDEs on human health or the environment. EPA intends to promulgate the test rule if it determines that manufacture (including import) or processing of c-PBDEs, including in articles, has not ceased by December 31, 2013.

How can I learn more about EPA's assessment activities on PBDEs?

For the most current information, read about the 2010 PBDE Action Plan and follow the links to current actions implementing the action plan.

For background details and historical information on EPA's assessment of PBDEs and other brominated flame retardants, read EPA's March 2006 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) Project Plan (PDF) and the December 2008 Update (PdF) to that plan.

What are PBDEs commonly used for?

The PBDEs are major components of commercial formulations often used as fire retardants in furniture foam, plastics for TV cabinets, consumer electronics, wire insulation, and back-coatings for draperies and upholstery, and plastics for personal computers and small appliances. These chemicals are intended to slow ignition and rate of fire growth, and, as a result, increase available escape time in the event of a fire involving these consumer products.

How are people exposed to PBDEs?

PBDEs are not chemically bound to plastics, foam, fabrics, or other products in which they are used, making them more likely to leach out of these products. PBDEs may enter the air, water and soil during their manufacture and use in consumer products. The primary route of human exposure is currently unclear.

Should consumers discard any products that might contain PentaBDE or Octa?

No, the EPA does not believe that there is a need to remove or replace products that may contain these chemicals. EPA has not concluded that PBDEs pose an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. However, due to growing concerns, EPA believes that the phase out and the regulatory action taken in this announcement are useful steps to minimize and ultimately help prevent further exposure to these chemicals.