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EPA releases results of dioxin studies - regulatory action expected.

104 pulp and paper mills likely affected, but no major regulations expected for consumer goods; there is apparently no cause for alarm for disposable diapers

On April 30, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to develop regulations requiring reduction of dioxin contamination in waterways and soil caused by chlorine-bleaching of pulp and paper. According to the announcement, the EPA will also work with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that risks posed by dioxin in food packaging are further reduced.

INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, had received advance copies of certain sections of this report and has been in regular contact with government officials responsible for this issue. INDA is encouraged that the EPA does not intend to take regulatory action that could affect disposable consumer products (other than paper food containers) based on its review of dioxin risks. However, INDA is concerned about the impact these potential regulations might have on the operations of U.S. wood pulp mills.

Basis Of EPA Action

EPA's announcement is in response to a 1988 consent decree between the EPA, the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation. The consent decree required that the EPA review the risks of dioxins and make decisions (based on a set schedule) on the need for regulations to control those risks.

Dioxin is a generic name for highly toxic chemicals released as unwanted by-products created when wood pulp is treated with chlorine bleach as a whitener.

The 1988 consent decree required that by April 30,1990, the EPA review the risks posed by dioxin and take one of the following three steps: 1) refer the issue to another federal government agency or agencies; 2) determine that regulations or referrals are not necessary; or 3) determine that the EPA does not have enough information to act and provide a schedule to obtain additional information. Based on this consent decree, the EPA has been studying the risks of dioxin for more than two years. In fact, the review was so broad that two other federal government agencies, the FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), were called upon to develop risk assessments for products that contain chlorine bleached paper and/or wood pulp.

EPA Action

According to the April 30 announcement, the EPA has determined that the production of chlorine bleached wood pulp from 104 U.S. mills poses a risk that is significant enough to require regulatory control. Of greatest concern to the EPA is the need to reduce levels of dioxin discharged into rivers and streams. To address this concern, the EPA is working with state governments to develop National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits. These permits will help ensure that discharges from chlorine-bleaching pulp and paper mills meet all applicable requirements of the Clean Water Act. The EPA expects to have enforceable permits requiring compliance by June, 1992 for state permits and by June, 1993 for EPA permits. The EPA is also developing effluent limitation guidelines and standards to reduce dioxin contamination and total chlorinated organics from the manufacture of bleached paper products and expects to have these guidelines drafted as proposed regulations in 1993, with final regulations expected in 1995.

In addition to its concern over discharges into rivers and streams, the EPA is also concerned about the disposal of dioxin-contaminated wastewater treatment sludge from pulp and paper mills. EPA intends to issue standards on pulp and paper sludge under the Toxic Substances Control Act and will determine at a later date whether regulations should also be issued under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

According to estimates provided by the American Paper Institute, it will cost approximately $20 million at each mill to implement technology necessary to reduce dioxin contamination by those mills that are currently using chlorine bleaching processes.

With food containers, the EPA announced that it will work closely with the FDA to ensure that the already low risks posed from dioxin in food packaging are further reduced. The EPA has announced that it will formally ask the FDA to take responsibility for managing risks for dioxin in food contact papers. Many Consumer Products Are Not Affected

In many ways, the EPA's announcement is almost as significant for what it does not say as it is for what it does say. While steps will be taken to address packaging and dioxin released into rivers and streams, regulations will not be pursued to alter production or distribution of consumer goods such as disposable diapers, coffee filters, adult incontinence products and feminine hygiene products.

In fact, the EPA has concluded that there is "no cause for alarm" for products using products made with bleached pulp or paper. The EPA based this conclusion on assessments conducted by the CPSC and the FDA that showed minuscule risks associated with these products.

For instance, in its assessment of disposable diapers, the CPSC concluded that the risk of contracting cancer is 0.2 in one billion. That is, the CPSC concluded that the average child, using six diapers a day over a three year period has a lifetime risk of contracting cancer of less than one in one billion.

Similarly, the CPSC has concluded that the risk from using paper towels is three in one billion and the risk from all products it studied combined is approximately five in one billion. Risks of up to one in one million are usually considered "acceptable" and generally will not be subject to regulatory intervention, according to the CPSC and the EPA.

in conducting its assessments, the FDA concluded that the average consumer is exposed to acceptable risks from individual products such as coffee filters, tea bags and milk cartons, and that the aggregate dietary risk (a person using all products on a regular basis over an entire lifetime) is so small-one in 50,000-that there is not a major health problem" associated with bleached paper or pulp products.

In addition to the actions taken as a result of the consent decree, the EPA also announced proposal of a "pollution-prevention initiative" involving industry, environmental groups, other federal agencies, state governments and the international regulatory community.

According to the EPA, the initiative will accelerate pollution reduction through process modifications and substitutes for chlorine. The initiative will include an on-going dialogue among interested parties regarding further actions, technology transfer, public information efforts and information exchanges with Canada, West Germany, Sweden and other nations.
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Author:Mayberry, Peter
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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