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Manufacturers wary about proposed EPA rule

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WASHINGTON—Manufacturers of cast polyurethanes, polyurethane foam, adhesives and sealants are reacting cautiously to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed Significant New Use Rule on toluene diisocyanates.

The SNUR is meant to cover only uncured products containing TDI and used in home applications, said representatives of the Polyurethane Manufacturers Association, Polyurethane Foam Association, and Adhesive and Sealant Council.

However, the current version of the plan is so written that it might allow the EPA to regulate some cured products, which do not contain or emit TDI, they said.

The EPA issued the SNUR on the TDI page of its website Jan. 8, and it was published in the Federal Register Jan. 15.

“The proposed SNUR would give EPA the opportunity to evaluate and, if necessary, to take action to prohibit or limit new or resumed use of (TDIs) at greater than 0.1 percent in coatings, adhesives, elastomers, binders and sealants in consumer products, including imported consumer products,” the TDI website said.

According to the EPA, diisocyanates have been documented to cause asthma, lung damage and even death in the workplace. The agency has a separate action plan for methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, or MDI.

“Worker exposures are already subject to protective controls in occupational settings, but EPA is concerned about potential health effects that may result from exposures to the consumer or self-employed worker while using products containing uncured TDI,” the agency said.

These products include spray-applied sealants and coatings, and such products also may harm people who are incidentally exposed to them, the agency said.

The proposal would mandate that persons or companies subject to the SNUR would have to notify the EPA at least 90 days before implementing any new use of TDI. This, the agency said, will give it time to evaluate the proposed new use and, if necessary, protect against any potential unreasonable risks.

The document proposes that the usual exemptions for persons or companies that import or process a substance as part of a finished product would not apply here.

On first reading, the SNUR may have minimal impact on many, if not most, members of the Polyurethane Manufacturers Association, said Michael S. Kocak, president of the PMA and quality and environmental manager for Cranberry Township, Pa.-based C.U.E. Inc.

“The cast polyurethane elastomers that our members produce are typically used in industrial, not consumer, applications,” he said.

“Additionally, the exception in the SNUR for elastomers with less than 0.1 percent TDI is expected to apply to almost all consumer products that members may be expected to produce.”

However, Kocak noted a statement in the proposal that the chemical substances subject to the SNUR contain free isocyanate functional groups and thus by definition are uncured.

“This is inconsistent with the accepted concept of curing,” he said. “Eventually, as detection limits become lower, we can envision a situation where virtually all polyurethane could be considered uncured.”

The 0.1-percent exemption protects cured polyurethane products from this for now, he said, but it could open the door to unreasonable regulation of trace amounts of TDI.

Robert Luedeka, executive director of the Polyurethane Foam Association, and Mark Collatz, director of government relations for the Adhesive and Sealant Council, expressed similar concerns.

“The original TDI action plan dealt only with uncured TDIs,” Luedeka said. “We would like it to be made very clear that there are no TDIs in finished products.”

The ASC has sent the EPA proposal to its members for their responses, according to Collatz. “Not that many of our member companies are still involved with TDI, but some may still use it in limited amounts,” he said.

The sort of tests the EPA will use to determine whether a product is covered is still unclear, Collatz he said.

All three men said their associations will monitor the EPA action closely and submit comments as necessary. The deadline for submitting comments on the TDI SNUR is March 16.