Phthalates serve a vital role in the creation of many polymeric materials. As such, having an acute sense of where they sit in the regulatory scheme is extremely important to professionals in the adhesives and sealants industry.
Like industry manufacturers, regulators often hold association-like meetings (even if they are not called that), take notice of what others are doing, and piggy-back regulation changes. Given Europe’s relatively progressive regulatory scheme under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical substances (REACH), we need to look there to foresee what may happen in North America.
Three phthalates are listed as substances of very high concern (SVHCs) under REACH and face significant registration, use and labeling restrictions in the near future: dioctyl phthalate (DOP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). Many manufacturers see the restrictions as the end of these three phthalates in European products due to the cost and personnel time that would be involved in registry, as well as marketplace deselection due to the actions.
Phthalates Chemical Action Plan
Several other phthalates, along with those listed above, are part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) chemical action plan (CAP) on phthalates. Complete information on this CAP is available at www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/action-plans/phthalates.html#address.
The EPA has tasked its Design for the Environment (DfE) program with performing an alternatives assessment on phthalates, considering a variety of uses, products and alternatives available commercially today. Currently, over 90 alternates have been identified across the entire program. This assessment will entail examining characteristics such as function, toxicity, exposure routes and economics. The group’s final report is due out in mid-2013 and will serve to provide guidance and recommendation to the EPA on eventual regulatory action, if any.
Environment Canada: It’s Coming
Environment Canada has listed phthalates as one of the chemical groupings that will undergo review under risk assessment and risk management activities by the end of the decade.1 Indications are that they will heavily weigh the outcome of EPA’s activities in their assessment activities and regulatory decisions.
Other “Regulation” Areas
California’s Green Chemistry Regulation is currently focusing on listed chemicals such as phthalates. States such as Maine, Massachusetts, Washington and Oregon have relatively progressive chemical regulations that are evolving and cannot be ignored. Many areas have already regulated phthalates in traditional consumer products, especially those related to children. In addition, building programs such as The Living Building Challenge and likely LEED V.4 have “red lists” that include phthalates, creating “market regulation.”
A Ray of Hope
All is not lost on the phthalate front. The DfE program will be paramount in setting the forward progress in phthalate regulation. In addition, not all phthalates have what some might consider evidence of risk, even those listed in current regulatory language. However, we must all be aware of the changing dynamic of this important chemical class and be prepared for whatever the future may bring.
1. Canada Gazette, October 8, 2011.