TSCA ‘Hit List’ Targets Many Construction Chemicals

As we’ve previously covered, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, signed by President Obama in June, received overwhelming support from Democrats, Republicans, chemical manufacturers and environmental advocates praising it as a step in the right direction toward enabling the U.S. EPA regulate chemicals more effectively.

While legislation of this scope is sure to affect businesses in almost every industry, many anticipate a significant impact to the construction sector in particular, where many of the chemicals expected to be on the EPA’s initial list for review are commonly used in insulations, paints, coatings and other building materials.

The following are five of the chemicals or types of chemicals used in construction that onlookers expect the EPA to take up early in any TSCA-related reviews:

  • Asbestos – Although an appeals court overturned an EPA ban in 1991, construction has largely moved to alternate materials. Still, in the absence of a ban, thousands of building products such as joint compound, floor tile, cement board, pipes and shingles may still contain asbestos fibers. Inhalation of asbestos fibers (typically during construction or demolition) causes mesothelioma, a serious form of cancer, and other pulmonary diseases. As a result, most Western countries banned the use of asbestos products in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Flame retardants – Added to furniture, electronics, and building materials to protect against fire,  halogenated flame retardants are related to PCBs and have been linked to developmental deficiencies in children, endocrine disruption, birth defects, and cancer. Pending review, the construction industry will likely have to eliminate the sourcing of products containing flame retardants under TSCA.
  • Formaldehyde – A known human carcinogen according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and an irritant to the mucus membranes, formaldehyde was “grandfathered in” under TSCA’s original 1976 version, and as a result, has never been subject to a full EPA assessment. Endemic in building materials, formaldehyde makes up polymers used in the manufacture of plywood and carpeting. Formaldehyde resins are also important to the manufacture of paper products and polyurethane foam insulations. Restrictions on formaldehyde are likely to result from any EPA review, and the construction industry will be forced to develop alternative materials as a result.
  • Diisocyanates – Commonly used in flexible and rigid foams, diisocyanates can cause skin and mucus membrane irritation and trigger asthma and other respiratory problems. Polyurethane foam building insulations, paints and coatings, and other products are likely to be heavily regulated or eliminated as the result of a TSCA review.
  • Silica – Silica has been in the headlines lately due OSHA regulations regarding the risks related to silica dust inhalation. Concrete, bricks, stone and glass contain silica, and OSHA regulates Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) for silica dust produced when working with these most common of construction materials. More stringent restrictions could be on the way if EPA performs testing and review of silica and its uses.

The amendments to the TSCA authorize the EPA to preempt state-level hazardous substance regulations, so chemical consumers should prepare to identify replacements for many of the materials they now use, or be prepared to acquire, store, and use them under greater restrictions.

However, any changes are likely to proceed slowly given the current political climate. The TSCA requires the EPA to test chemicals in batches of at least 20, and allows five years for the manufacturers to implement any risk management measures that the EPA prescribes. Nevertheless, it is critical for companies to not only understand what the TSCA reform changes are, but also take steps now to ensure they are ready for any new chemical regulations or bans down the line.

Change is on the way, and our solutions can help you prepare. The Chemical Management solutions available with MSDSonline, a VelocityEHS brand, help simplify the management of chemicals throughout your enterprise. With MSDSonline, you know exactly which chemicals are present in your facilities and in what quantities, to help minimize any potential threats to safety and the environment.