EPA Fines Dover Chemical $1.4 Million for TSCA Violations – But Was EPA Really Looking for an Easy Way to Ban SCCPs?

TSCA Enforcement:

On February 7, 2012, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a settlement with the Dover Chemical Company to resolve alleged violations of the premanufacture notice (PMN) requirements in section 5 of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  Section 5 requires companies to file a PMN and receive EPA approval before manufacturing a “new” chemical – i.e., one not listed on the TSCA Inventory of existing chemical substances.  EPA accused Dover of failing to file PMNs before manufacturing various chlorinated paraffins at the company’s facilities in Ohio and Indiana.  Although the settlement is noteworthy in demonstrating EPA’s willingness to reinterpret the TSCA Inventory and enforce that reinterpretation, it is perhaps more noteworthy because it suggests EPA is willing to use enforcement as a shortcut to banning substances, as described in the last paragraph of this posting.  A copy of the settlement agreement is available here, and the EPA press release is available here

As part of the settlement, Dover will pay $1.4 million in civil penalties, and the company will stop manufacturing short-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs).  Dover is the only domestic producer of those substances.  In addition, Dover will file PMNs for certain medium-chain and long-chain chlorinated paraffins (MCCPs and LCCPs) in hopes of receiving EPA approval.  Whether the company will receive approval – and if so, under what terms – remains to be seen.

Dover appears to have fun afoul of EPA’s nomenclature guidance and ever-evolving interpretation of the TSCA Inventory.  When EPA first established the TSCA Inventory, the agency arguably required less precision with substance identification.  Over time, however, that has changed.  The agency would certainly disagree, arguing it has been consistent over time, but experience suggests otherwise.  In 1995, EPA published nomenclature guidance – available here – – for complex reaction products, UVCB substances, mixtures, and substances containing varying carbon chain lengths (such as some SCCPs have).  In certain cases, that guidance conflicted with earlier agency statements, requiring some companies to seek Inventory corrections, pursue exemptions or file PMNs for substances they had been manufacturing for years.  Since 1995, EPA has reinterpreted the Inventory status of statutory mixtures and activated phosphors, among others.  It’s almost certain that more changes are on the horizon with the current Administration’s aggressive and expansive use of the TSCA statute.

Perhaps of greatest interest to cynics is the agency’s apparent use of the enforcement mechanism to essentially achieve a ban on SCCPs.  In December 2009, EPA published a Chemical Action Plan for SCCPs , proposing to ban or restrict SCCPs under section 6(a) because the chemicals are thought to be persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT), a set of hazard traits that regulatory agencies are particularly concerned about.  The Plan also identified Dover as the only known domestic producer.  According to the settlement agreement, December 2009 was the same month that Dover received a NOV for alleged violations of the PMN requirements for SCCPs and other chemicals.  It is doubtful that this timing was coincidental.  While Dover’s agreement to cease production of SCCPs doesn’t apply to other manufacturers/importers, by shutting down the only domestic production and publicly questioning the Inventory status of many SCCPs, EPA effectively achieved a ban.   This is a cynical conclusion perhaps, but the publicly available facts suggest it’s a reasonable one to draw.  Did EPA initiate enforcement to achieve a result that would have been more difficult to achieve under section 6(a)?  You decide.