The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) requires US EPA to create specific management programs for chemicals that pose an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. TSCA gives EPA the authority to identify such chemicals and use regulatory programs to limit or outright prohibit the manufacture, processing, distribution, use, or disposal of such chemicals. One group of chemicals for which EPA has created such a program is hexavalent chromium-based water treatment chemicals.
The rules at 40 CFR 749 apply to any person using hexavalent chromium-based water treatment chemicals as well as any person who distributes hexavalent chromium-based water treatment chemicals for use in such systems.
What Is Hexavalent Chromium?
Often referred to as “Chrome 6,” hexavalent chromium is “the oxidation state of chromium with an oxidation number of +6; a coordination number of 4 and tetrahedral geometry.”
In addition to use in water treatment systems, Chrome 6 is used in industry to add pigment to dyes, paints, inks, and plastics; as an anti-corrosive in paints and other coatings; and more.
Chrome 6 played a prominently role in the true-life events that inspired the 2000 film Erin Brockovich—
the story of a legal professional who uncovered severe health effects from water contaminated with hexavalent chromium, resulting in the largest direct-action settlement in US history.
What Are Comfort Cooling Towers?
A Cooling Tower is “an open water recirculating device that uses fans or natural draft to draw or force ambient air through the device to cool warm water by direct contact.” EPA further defines comfort cooling towers as “cooling towers that are dedicated exclusively to and are an integral part of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning or refrigeration systems.” [40 CFR 749.68(d)]
What Are Water Treatment Chemicals Under TSCA?
EPA defines water treatment chemicals as “any combination of chemical substances used to treat water in cooling systems and can include corrosion inhibitors, antiscalants, dispersants, and any other chemical substances except biocides.” [40 CFR 749.68(d)]
What Activities Does EPA Prohibit Under TSCA?
As of February 20, 1990, all persons are prohibited
from distributing in commerce hexavalent chromium-based water treatment chemicals for use in comfort cooling towers.
As of May 18, 1990, all persons are prohibited
from the commercial use of hexavalent chromium-based water treatment chemicals in comfort cooling towers.
Hexavalent chromium may continue to be used in other water treatment systems.
Labeling and Documentation Rules for Distributing Chrome 6
Anyone who distributes in commerce hexavalent chromium-based water treatment chemicals for use in cooling systems must conspicuously label each container, in 6-point type or larger, with specific language about the presence and dangers of hexavalent chromium. The specific wording of the warning can be found at 40 CFR 749.68(g).
Per 40 CFR 745.68(h), anyone distributing in commerce hexavalent chromium-based water treatment chemicals for use in cooling systems must keep records that document:
- Contact information for the cooling tower to which the chemicals were shipped.
- A list of chemicals and amounts shipped.
- The location at which the chemicals will be used.
These records must be available to EPA inspectors at the time an inspection occurs. [40 CFR 749.68(j) and (k)]
Each person who distributes in commerce any hexavalent chromium-based water treatment chemicals for use in cooling systems is required to submit a report to the Regional Administrator for the region in which the distributor headquarters is located. The report must be postmarked no later than 30 days after the person first begins distributing in commerce hexavalent chromium-based water treatment chemicals.
The report must include:
- For the headquarters: the distributor name, address, telephone number, and the name of a contact.
- For the shipment offices through which hexavalent chromium-based water treatment chemicals are sold for use in cooling systems: the distributor name, address, telephone number, and the name of a contact.
Hexavalent chromium-based water treatment chemicals are just one of the chemicals for which EPA has established specific management standards under TSCA. The others are lead-based paint [40 CFR 745], certain metal-working fluids [40 CFR 7470], polychlorinated biphenyls [40 CFR 761], asbestos [40 CFR 762], and mercury [TSCA §6(f)].
Under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st
Century Act, EPA must evaluate more chemicals to decide if they pose an unreasonable risk. The first group of 10 chemicals to be reviewed was announced on November 10, 2016, and the statutory deadline for EPA to propose regulatory action on those 10 chemicals is June 22, 2019.
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The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is complex and enforcement is stringent, making a comprehensive understanding of the rules critical for compliance. The law has broad applicability, subjecting all companies that “manufacture, use, process, distribute, import, or export chemical products” to complex reporting and management requirements.