On November 15, 2022, BlueLand and Plastic Pollution Coalition filed a petition with EPA on behalf of itself and numerous non-profit organizations fighting plastic pollution and climate change, requesting that EPA require health and environmental testing and regulation of polyvinyl alcohol under TSCA, and that the substance be removed from EPA’s Safer Choice and Safer Chemical Ingredients lists. TSCA section 21 permits any person to petition EPA to initiate a proceeding for the issuance, amendment, or repeal of a rule or order under TSCA section 4 (rules or order requiring chemical testing), section 5(d) or (f) (orders affecting new chemical substances) section 6 (rules imposing regulatory controls on chemicals), and section 8 (rules requiring information).
Polyvinyl alcohol, also referred to as PVA or PVOH, is commonly used in consumer-packaged goods, including laundry and dishwasher detergent pods and sheets. PVA is a petroleum-based polymer that serves as the thin layer of plastic film on these pods. The film dissolves in the water during a washing machine or dishwasher cycle. However, the PVA itself does not; tiny pieces of plastic debris called microplastics are contained in the wastewater.
Microplastics are suspected of contributing to plastic pollution in oceans and waterways. A recent study detailed in Degradation of Polyvinyl Alcohol in US Wastewater Treatment Plants and Subsequent Nationwide Emission Estimate stated that approximately 75 % of PVA from these pods persists through conventional wastewater treatment, ultimately ending up in waterways and ecosystems. Additionally, microplastics have been found in human food and water sources, the human bloodstream, and human breast milk.
The petition argues that under TSCA (15 U.S.C 2603), EPA has the authority to and should require extensive health and environmental safety testing of PVA once it is released into ecosystems and waterways. The petition also requests that PVA be removed from EPA’s Safer Chemicals Ingredient List developed by EPA’s Safer Choice Program; the list arranges chemicals by functional-use class to help manufacturers find safer chemical alternatives than traditional chemicals that meet the criteria of the Safer Choice Program. The petition argues that based on PVA’s bioaccumulative and persistence qualities, when applied to the Safer Choice Program’s guidance on polymers, PVA does not meet the requirements to be listed.