EPA identifies safer alternatives for flame retardants.

Yesterday, EPA’s Design for Environment (DfE) program released two reports on flame retardants and their safer alternatives. One report is a draft update of a 2005 Alternatives Assessment on the flame retardant pentabromodiphenyl ether (pentaBDE) in flexible polyurethane foam; the other is a final Alternatives Assessment on Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), a brominated flame retardant used in polystyrene building insulation. Both chemicals pose risks to human health and the environment, including “potential reproductive, developmental, and neurological effects and can be persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to aquatic organisms.”

PentaBDE has already been phased out of use in the U.S.; in 2004, industry voluntarily agreed to cease production and EPA issued a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) aimed at ending the chemical’s domestic manufacture. EPA proposed another SNUR in 2012 to address imports of pentaBDE-containing furniture or other articles. EPA identified oligomeric phosphonate polyol as a safer alternative to pentaBDE. PentaBDE has also been subject to flammability standards recently proposed and finalized by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the state of California, respectively. EPA’s updated alternatives assessment is “[complementary to] the CPSC and California actions by providing important information for informed selection of flame retardants in the manufacture of home and office furniture, as well as the many home products not covered by these standards.” The draft update provides a hazard assessment for flame retardant chemicals used in upholstered consumer products containing polyurethane foam, including updated health and environmental profiles previously profiled in 2005 and new products in the category.

EPA issued this report on HBCD as part of the agency’s action plan for HBCD under the Existing Chemicals Management Plan. Although HBCD is also used as a flame retardant in textile back coatings and high-impact polystyrene in electronics housings, the Alternatives Assessment only addresses its use in expanded polystyrene (EPS) and extruded polystyrene (XPS) foam insulation produced for the building and construction industry for fire safety. Butadiene styrene brominated copolymer was identified as a safer alternative to HBCD based on hazard considerations, with lower human health, ecotoxicity, and exposure potentials, although it is also inherently persistent due to its molecule size. Butadiene styrene brominated copolymer is regulated by its own SNUR and is commercially available from chemical suppliers, according to EPA.

Partnering with EPA's Design for Environment at Walmart Sustainable Products Expo.

EPA is a significant partner to companies leading innovation efforts in the arena of safer consumer products, according to Assistant Administrator Jim Jones, of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. In a blog post yesterday, Jones describes how EPA’s Design for Environment (DfE) program recently participated in a “Supplier Panel on Sustainable Chemistry” at Walmart’s first ever Sustainable Products Expo, which brought together leaders from EPA, NGOs, and product manufacturers.

As we have previously discussed, EPA’s DfE program – which establishes voluntary sustainability-related standards for consumer products like household cleaners – plays a major role in Walmart’s Sustainable Chemistry Initiative. Jones writes that EPA’s contribution is “providing scientific expertise and understanding of health and environmental impacts throughout the supply chain, educating consumers and companies alike, and bringing people to the table to stimulate dialogue and partnerships.” Jones notes that with “growing consumer recognition” and trust for the DfE’s “Safer Products” label and program criteria, EPA’s partnerships with companies like Walmart and its participating suppliers can promote sustainability, health, and the environment while meeting consumer demand and growing their business.

The Expo also featured announcements from Walmart and its suppliers of various new sustainability commitments and initiatives. One such initiative is the Closed Loop Fund, which will invest $100 million seeded from suppliers including Coca-Cola, Pepsico, and Johnson & Johnson in recycling infrastructure with the goal of “transforming the recycling system in the United States.” Cargill made commitments to increase supply chain transparency in beef and Procter & Gamble pledged to reduce water use for liquid laundry detergent. Together, the suppliers participating across all of these voluntary sustainability efforts account for over $100 billion in sales at Walmart.

Walmart’s sustainable chemicals policy promotes transparency and DfE.

Last month, Walmart released the details of how its sustainable chemicals policy will be implemented, a move that will likely push suppliers to use safer chemicals in reformulating consumer products like cosmetics and cleaners. Walmart’s chemicals policy was first announced in September, and was quickly followed by the announcement of a “Sustainable Product Standard” developed by rival retail chain Target.

Walmart’s Sustainable Chemistry Implementation Guide is aimed at suppliers and provides details, resources, and metrics by which suppliers will be evaluated in their efforts to meet each element of the policy. The policy draws on various preexisting governmental, private sector, and voluntary programs addressing various aspects related to safer chemicals in products, particularly U.S. EPA’s Design for Environment (DfE) program.

The policy identifies “Walmart Priority Chemicals,” which are compiled from a list of authoritative and regulatory lists, including the EU’s endocrine disruptors priority list, various REACH lists, IARC’s and the U.S. NTP’s carcinogens lists, and California’s Proposition 65 developmental and reproductive toxicants list. From that compilation, the company has selected a subset of “approximately ten” “Walmart High Priority Chemicals,” which have not been publicly identified because of “business reasons.” Suppliers will learn whether a product contains a Walmart High Priority Chemical through The Wercs, a company whose WERCSmart platform facilitates the submission of product formulation information and lets retailers access and compile regulatory compliance and hazard communication data. The list of Walmart High Priority Chemicals is described in the Guide as “proprietary to Walmart,” and suppliers who are notified that their product contains a Walmart High Priority Chemical are asked not to disclose or use that information outside the supplier’s organization.

The Implementation Guide organizes the policy’s elements into three categories: (1) transparency; (2) advancing safer formulation of products; and (3) DfE in private brands.

Transparency: Suppliers will be measured based on, for example, the percentage of products (“by number of UPCs and sales”) for which formulation information has been fully disclosed to The Wercs. Walmart expects its suppliers to disclose product ingredients on their own websites, on a product-by-product basis, by January 2015; priority chemicals are to be disclosed on product packaging by January 2018. The Guide refers to EPA’s DfE Standard for Safer Products as well as the Consumer Specialty Products Association’s Ingredient Communication Initiative for guidance on how suppliers should disclose ingredients.

Safer formulation: Suppliers will be asked to complete the Sustainability Index, a questionnaire-based program developed by the Sustainability Consortium, to report progress on chemical disclosure, risk assessment, and hazard avoidance. Walmart has been using the Sustainability Index to assess suppliers and their products since 2009, and has built the resulting scorecards into the way Walmart’s buyers work. Walmart will also evaluate suppliers based on their performance in reducing, restricting, and eliminating priority chemicals and Walmart High Priority Chemicals “using informed substitution principles.” The Guide recommends the tenets of the Commons Principles of Alternatives Assessments, and recommends certain Alternatives Assessment ingredient lists and methodologies. Suppliers’ performance will be quantified based on metrics including: the aggregate weight volume of priority chemicals; number of UPCs and sales volume of products with priority chemicals; and number of products formulated with only DfE-approved ingredients. Progress on the initiatives in this category will be compared to a 2012 baseline.

DfE in private brands: Starting this year, Walmart and Sam’s Club’s own brand of cleaning products will be reformulated and relabeled to meet the criteria of EPA’s DfE program. This program will be expanded to other product categories in the future, although the Guide did not specify further details. Progress on this initiative will be measured by the percentage of private brand products which are DfE-certified.

Walmart will begin monitoring progress of all the initiatives this year, and aggregate progress will be reported publicly starting in 2016.

EPA publishes Alternatives Assessments for DecaBDE and BPA in thermal paper.

EPA has released final Alternatives Assessment Reports for DecaBDE and bisphenol A (BPA) in thermal paper. The assessments were developed under the agency’s Design for Environment (DfE) program to characterize the environmental and human health hazards for the substances and their alternatives, and are intended to inform substitution decisions.

DecaBDE is a flame retardant belonging to the class of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and has been used in a wide range of products from textiles to building materials. EPA has been concerned that DecaBDE and related chemicals may be persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to humans and the environment. The Alternatives Assessment released yesterday is part of the agency’s action plan for PBDEs, which encourages industry to voluntarily phase out the manufacture and import of these chemicals. The Alternatives Assessment Report [PDF] profiles 29 alternative flame retardants with varying hazard profiles, including substances that have been use for decades as well as others that are relatively new to the market.

BPA is widely used as a developer in thermal paper, as in the case of cash register receipts. The chemical is common in manufacturing polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins; thermal paper represents a smaller percentage of overall BPA use, but EPA is concerned that “use of BPA in thermal paper could increase cumulative human exposures and direct and indirect environmental releases of BPA.” The Alternatives Assessment Report, also part of an EPA action plan, profiles 19 potential chemical alternatives evaluated for human health effects, ecotoxicity, and environmental fate. The report did not identify a clearly safer alternative to BPA, as “most alternatives have Moderate or High hazard designations for human health or aquatic toxicity endpoints.”

BPA in thermal paper has recently come under increased scrutiny in Europe as well. Last week, France submitted a dossier to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) proposing to restrict the use of the substance; in August, France proposed reclassifying BPA from a category 2 reprotoxicant to category 1B.

Nearly 50 chemicals added to EPA’s Safer Chemical Ingredients List.

EPA Assistant Administrator Jim Jones took to the agency’s blog today to promote new additions to the Safer Chemical Ingredients List (SCIL), part of EPA’s Design for Environment (DfE) program. EPA has just added nearly 50 chemicals – including 40 fragrances – to the SCIL, which now totals 650 “safer” chemicals. SCIL chemicals are evaluated by third-party profilers to determine whether they meet the program’s protective criteria across a broad range of potential toxicological effects, ranging from carcinogens to asthmagens to chemicals on authoritative lists of chemicals of concern.

DfE is a voluntary labeling program which currently recognizes 2,500 products, such as household cleaners and firefighting foam, for high performance, cost effectiveness, and use of the safest chemical ingredients. The SCIL component of the DfE program is arranged by functional use class and is aimed at helping product manufacturers identify safer chemical ingredients, formulate safer products, and make it easier for products to earn the DfE label.

Walmart to phase out chemicals in cosmetics and household products.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, announced on Thursday a new initiative to eliminate certain chemicals of concern in cosmetics and household products. The company will also expand ingredient disclosure and begin to label its own brand of cleaning products using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Design for Environment (DfE) guidelines.

Under its “Policy on Sustainable Chemistry in Consumables,” [PDF] Walmart will work with suppliers to phase out an initial list of ten “priority” substances. Walmart will not disclose the list of substances until it has further discussed the new policy with suppliers, said the company’s senior vice president for sustainability, Andrea Thomas. However, Thomas said the list was developed with input from suppliers, academics, nonprofits, and the EPA, and that the chemicals were chosen based on their use in products, potential impact, and the availability of viable alternatives. In order to ensure that any replacement chemicals comply with established “green chemistry” requirements, Walmart is requiring its suppliers to use a tool called GreenWERCS, which Walmart developed with the help of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and other public health groups in 2009.

Beginning in 2014, Walmart will start monitoring progress of its new policy, and will also begin to identify some its private brand cleaning products for inclusion in the DfE labeling program. Beginning in 2015, the policy will require suppliers to provide public online ingredient disclosure for products in the categories covered. By 2018, any products still containing “priority” chemicals on Walmart’s list—which will be regularly reviewed to see if additional chemicals should be prioritized—will have to disclose these ingredients on package labels.

Consumer and environmental health advocates welcomed the initiative, which many said was the first chemical policy of this scope by a global retailer. Over the past several years, major Walmart suppliers like SC Johnson, Johnson and Johnson and Procter & Gamble have taken steps to phase out hazardous chemicals. However, as the world’s largest retailer, Walmart’s policy has the most significant potential to encourage large companies to use safer chemicals in their products.

EPA Expands List of Safer Chemical Ingredients.

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added more than 130 chemicals to its Safer Chemical Ingredients List, which contains chemicals that meet the criteria of EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Safer Product Labeling Program. For the first time, 119 fragrance chemicals for commercial and consumer cleaning products have also been added to the list.

Fragrance, although still thought to be a relatively low safety hazard compared to other chemicals, has become a health concern because of its unlisted ingredients. A study by the consumer advocacy groups Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 17 popular fragrances and found that the average fragrance product contained 14 undisclosed chemicals. Among them were phthalates, which are used to soften plastic and belong to the class of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that may affect the body’s hormone system.

With the addition of the new chemicals, the Safer Chemical Ingredient list now contains 602 chemicals. Established in September 2012, it serves as a resource for consumers, product manufacturers, and environmental and health advocates interested in the use of safer chemical ingredients in products. Product manufacturers can also use the guide to identify chemical ingredients that meet the DfE program’s rigorous scientific standards for protecting human health and the environment. More than 2,500 products are certified under the DfE Standard for Safer Products including all-purpose cleaners, laundry and dishwasher detergents, window cleaners, car and boat care, and many other products.