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EPA Begins Review of Vinyl Chloride and Four Other Chemicals

Move could be first step toward restriction or ban of vinyl chloride, a key ingredient in PVC, and other chemicals used to process and manufacture plastics.

Norbert Sparrow

December 20, 2023

3 Min Read
scientist dropping liquid from pipette
RunPhoto/Image Bank via Getty Images

At a Glance

  • If the chemicals are designated High Priority Substances at end of 12-month process, EPA will begin risk evaluations
  • EPA will open a public comment period and encourages companies that make and use these chemicals to participate
  • Vinyl Institute said it will work with EPA to correct misunderstandings about vinyl chloride and safety of PVC products

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated a process to prioritize vinyl chloride and four other chemicals used in the manufacture and processing of plastics for risk evaluation. If EPA designates the five chemicals as High Priority Substances at the end of the 12-month process, it will then begin risk evaluations, the agency said in a news release published on Dec. 14.

The other four chemicals are acetaldehyde, acrylonitrile, benzenamine, and 4,4’-methylene bis(2-chloroaniline) (MBOCA). All five of the chemicals prioritized by EPA are classified as probable or, in the case of vinyl chloride, known human carcinogens.

Vinyl chloride made headlines earlier this year when a train carrying the chemical derailed in East Palestine, OH. The chemical spill sickened residents and made national news for several days.

Vinyl chloride is a key ingredient in polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and the EPA action has been characterized by some as a first step in the restriction or ban of the five chemicals.

Prioritization initiates a process under EPA’s authority to regulate existing chemicals currently on the market and in use — to evaluate whether health and environmental protections are needed, the agency explained in the news release. “This process also advances the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of environmental justice for all by evaluating, sharing information on, and providing a process to, as appropriate and needed, address the impacts of toxic chemicals in use on workers, consumers, and communities. If at the end of the risk evaluation process EPA determines that a chemical presents an unreasonable risk to health or the environment, the agency must immediately start the risk management process to take action to eliminate these unreasonable risks,” said EPA.

EPA said it will open a public comment period upon publication of the Federal Register notice and encourages companies that make and use these chemicals to participate and share information. The Vinyl Institute immediately took EPA up on the offer.

"Vinyl Institute and our members are fully prepared to work with the EPA during both prioritization and risk evaluation of vinyl chloride,” said the trade association that represents manufacturers of vinyl, vinyl chloride monomer, vinyl additives, and modifiers. “The agency's prioritization of vinyl chloride is no surprise to us because it has been part of EPA's work plan since 2012. The Vinyl Institute has indicated our strong interest to be engaged in the process early, and to serve as a collaborative resource for the agency,” said the Dec. 14 news release.The Vinyl Institute added that it views this as an opportunity to “correct any misunderstanding about the regulation of vinyl chloride manufacturing and the safety of PVC products.”

PVC is the second most widely used polymer globally, after polyethylene, and the most used plastic in medical applications, where it accounts for about a quarter of all medical-plastic compounds. PVC is also the dominant material used to manufacture plastic pipes, which are popular in infrastructure projects because they are lighter, easier to install, and longer lasting than metal or concrete pipes.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree. Reach him at [email protected].

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