Polychlorinated Biphenyls. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a class of chemical compounds that were produced for commercial uses, such as heat transfer fluids in electrical transformers and capacitors, and as plasticizers, wax and pesticide extenders, and lubricants. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PCBs are probable human carcinogens and may have serious and potential effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system.
In 1979, the Unite States banned the production of PCBs under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) for most uses and restricted PCB concentrations to low levels. EPA's regulations implementing TSCA for PCBs allow some inadvertent generation of PCBs to occur in excluded manufacturing processes.
Safer Products for Washington. In 2019, the Legislature established an administrative process for the regulation by the Department of Ecology (Ecology) of priority chemicals in priority consumer products. Under this process, certain chemicals were defined as priority chemicals, including perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), PCBs, phthalates, organohalogen flame retardants and other flame retardants identified under the Children's Safe Products Act, and phenolic compounds. Ecology is also authorized to designate additional chemicals as priority chemicals every five years if they meet qualifying criteria, consistent with a schedule established in the 2019 law.
Every five years, according to a specified schedule, Ecology must also:
Regulatory actions may include a determination that no action is needed, may require manufacturers to provide notice of the use of a chemical, or may restrict or prohibit the manufacture, distribution, sale, or use of a priority chemical in a consumer product.
Ecology is required to make regulatory determinations for the initial round of statutorily designated priority chemicals and their associated priority consumer products by June 1, 2022, and must adopt rules to implement those regulatory determinations by June 1, 2023.
In its 2022 report, Ecology determined reporting requirements or restrictions for the use of the following priority chemicals in priority consumer products:
Ecology must petition EPA to reassess its regulations on allowable inadvertent PCBs in product manufacturing processes for the purpose of eliminating or reducing the presence of PCBs in consumer products.
In petitioning EPA, Ecology must include legislative findings and information on:
To the extent practicable, Ecology must seek completion of the petition review by January 1, 2025.
Paints and printing inks are confirmed as priority consumer products for PCB chemicals under Safer Products for Washington.
Paints and printing inks may include, but are not limited to, building paint for indoor or outdoor use, spray paint, children's paint, road paint, and printing inks used in paper and packaging.
Ecology may not administer or enforce any restriction or prohibition on PCB-containing paints and printing inks if:
If any restriction or prohibition on PCB-containing paints and printing inks is determined to be preempted, Ecology must:
PRO: This bill takes a small but meaningful step forward in keeping Spokane river and waterways across the state clean. Spokane River is the lifeblood of Spokane, and vital for all life there. One of the most persistent concerns are the cancer-causing PCBs. It's difficult work to get PCBs out of the river. The PCBs come from road paint and inks in newspaper and magazines that are recycled at the paper plant.
Although we have the most modern water technology treatment, we can't meet our permit requirements if we have PCBs in our effluent. This bill provides a possible solution by asking the federal government to fix this discrepancy. We know there are alternatives to PCB-containing paints and inks.
We are spending hundred of millions of dollars cleaning up PCBs in the Duwamish river and other superfund sites, and have this issue of PCBs making it into our waterways and wildlife. Detectable levels of PCBs were found in a certain cereal brand, yellow foam, and sidewalk chalk. We have to do source control. It's a lot cheaper to get it out of products before it gets out into the environment.
CON: This bill seems to require Ecology to undertake a process that it determined is preempted, which would result in unnecessary litigation costs. We should put forth a study to research products leading to contamination. Without further analysis of products, this bill will not reduce PCB contamination within the state.
OTHER: Ecology supports efforts to eliminate PCBs in the environment. Although use of PCBs in products was banned in the 70's, it can still be present as a byproduct of manufacturing processes, especially manufacture of yellow and green pigments. While the petition process is unlikely to provide a quick answer, it may provide an opportunity for Washington to coordinate with other states to ask EPA for a more protective standard.
We would like to see alignment with TSCA and EPA water standards at the federal level. We have light concerns about this product bumped up in the safer products process. There is an existing process that takes five years to move through. If regulation is revisited, we should go through that process again.
PRO: This bill takes meaningful step forward in keeping Spokane river and waterways across the state clean. One of the most persistent concerns are the cancer-causing PCBs. It's difficult work to get PCBs out of the river. The PCBs come from road paint and inks in newspaper and magazines that are recycled at the paper plant.
We have found PCBs in waterways due to the allowed federal law exceptions. That is why we need the petition. We also know that paint and printer ink can be made without the use of PCBs.