The Environmental Protection Agency will formally consider whether PVC waste should be classified as hazardous under federal law, according to a legal agreement announced May 3 between EPA and an environmental group.
The agreement stems from a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued EPA in 2021 alleging unreasonable delays in responding to a 2014 petition it filed seeking tougher regulation.
It sets in motion a process that will have EPA making a preliminary decision by early 2023 and a final determination by April 2024.
CBD praised the settlement and said it hopes it leads ultimately to ending PVC production, while an industry group said it supports a timely EPA review, which it believes will demonstrate the safety of the material.
"The Vinyl Institute will continue to cooperate with EPA staff to provide science-based information on petitions regarding PVC," said Ned Monroe, VI president and CEO.
"Government health and safety agencies worldwide have studied PVC and recognize the importance of products such as PVC pipe that delivers clean drinking water and landfill liners that prevent groundwater contamination," he said. "If the EPA follows the science, as we expect they will, CBD's petition will be denied."
CBD hopes the rule-making leads to a "comprehensive framework to ensure [PVC's] safe treatment, storage and disposal."
"We hope this is the federal government's first step toward acknowledging the toxic legacy of PVC, and ultimately leads to the end of its production," said Emily Jeffers, a CBD attorney. "Scientists have been telling us for years that PVC is the most environmentally damaging type of plastic."
In its 2021 complaint, CBD said that PVC releases toxins and carcinogens, including dioxins and phthalate plasticizers, into the environment.
The group said studies indicate finished PVC products leach toxic materials as they age, and it said PVC production is an environmental justice issue because of pollution in fenceline communities.
President Joe Biden's administration has elevated environmental justice reviews around plastics plants, including requiring a large Formosa Plastics project in Louisiana to go through additional environmental impact reviews.
CBD's lawsuit last year in federal court in Washington, D.C., said EPA violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by ignoring the environmental group's 2014 petition. Interested parties have until June 3 to file formal comments on the consent decree with the federal government.