February 16, 1999


RCRA Docket Information Center
Office of Solid Waste (5305G)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Headquarters
401 M Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460
Re: Docket Number F-98-MMLP-FFFFF



The IPC—Association Connecting Electronics Industries, greatly appreciates this opportunity to comment on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ("EPA's" or "the Agency's") draft RCRA Waste Minimization PBT Chemical List ("RCRA PBT List"). The Agency plans to use this list to focus federal, state, industry, and public attention on actions to reduce the generation of listed chemicals in RCRA hazardous waste by 50 percent by 2005. 63 Fed. Reg. 60332 (Nov. 9, 1998).

The IPC is extremely concerned that EPA's draft RCRA PBT List classifies copper as a PBT substance and urges the Agency to consider these comments as it refines its proposal. IPC opposes the inclusion of copper on the current RCRA PBT draft list because the inclusion of copper is not based on sound science. IPC also opposes the current draft RCRA PBT List because, once it is developed, it will be used to promote regulatory and nonregulatory calls for the reduction and/or elimination of industrial uses of copper. Because the draft RCRA PBT List lacks scientific validity, such regulatory and nonregulatory actions will not reduce environmental risk. IPC is willing to explore opportunities for further waste minimization efforts, particularly recycling, of wastes containing copper. However, the draft list's inclusion of copper is seriously flawed and must be reevaluated by the Agency.

I. INTRODUCTION

The IPC represents more than 2400 companies in the electronic interconnection industry. IPC's regular membership includes companies that produce bare printed circuit boards (commonly referred to as printed wiring boards (PWBs)) as well as companies that produce electronic assemblies by attaching electrical components to bare PWBs. IPC members also include suppliers to the industry as well as major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that use PWBs in their own products, which include consumer electronics as well as more sophisticated industrial and military electronic systems. IPC membership also includes over 100 representatives from government and academia with vital interests in this crucial technology.

The U.S. electronic interconnection industry is a $26 billion industry that employs more than 250,000 people. IPC membership is unique in that its members operate in a high-technology industry, yet it is composed almost entirely of small businesses. Ninety percent of IPC members have sales of less than $10 million and, of those companies, eighty percent have sales less than $5 million. The average PWB manufacturer employs on average 100 persons.

On October 3, 1997, IPC submitted comments to the Office of Solid Waste ("OSW") regarding the Agency's draft Waste Minimization Prioritization Tool ("WMPT") and draft prioritized chemical list ("DPCL"). In those comments, IPC articulated its concern that methodology the Agency used to develop the WMPT was scientifically flawed. Since the WMPT has not been finalized, the Agency should not have used the WMPT to form the draft RCRA PBT List. In addition, IPC opposes the current draft RCRA PBT List for the following reasons.

II. PBT CRITERIA FAIL TO MEASURE ENVIRONMENTAL RISK FOR METALS

EPA's draft RCRA PBT List uses three criteria - persistence (P), bioaccumulation (B), and toxicity (T), to rank chemicals based on their purported ability to "pose long-term problems when released to the environment." 63 Fed. Reg. 60333 (November 9, 1998). Unfortunately, this methodology can not be applied to metals. PBT criteria were developed years ago to assess the environmental risks posed by organic chemicals, which possess very different chemical characteristics than metals. Although PBT criteria may reflect environmental risks when applied to organic chemicals, the criteria do not provide useful environmental risk information when applied to metals.

For example, "persistence" is clearly an inappropriate measure of environmental risk when applied to metals since metals, by their very nature, "persist." In fact, their ability to withstand environmental conditions without degrading is the reason why metals are such a valuable raw material. Persistence, in the case of metals, however, is not an accurate determinant of environmental risk. A metal can persist for many years yet pose absolutely no environmental risk. Because there is no correlation between a metal's persistence and its environmental risk, the ranking of metals based on a "P" criterion is scientifically flawed. EPA should modify its methodology to reflect this crucial fact.

Instead of persistence, EPA should apply a criterion that more accurately reflects a metal's environmental risk. For example, one alternative criterion is bioavailability. While metals do not biodegrade because they are persistent, they can transform into different compounds posing varying levels of environmental risk. Depending upon the particular chemical form of the metal, the metal may be more or less available for uptake by living organisms. In the case of metals, therefore, persistence is not an effective ranking criterion for environmental risk. Rather, bioavailability is a more accurate determinant of environmental risk and the Agency should modify its PBT methodology accordingly.

The Agency's use of a "bioaccumulation" criterion is also inappropriate when applied to metals because some metals, such as copper, are essential for human, animal, and plant life. The Agency's ranking of metals based on their bioaccumulation potential overstates the environmental risk caused by some metals because it fails to acknowledge that some organisms bioaccumulate metals in trace amounts in order to survive.

Finally, the Agency's use of "toxicity" is an inappropriate measure of metals' environmental risks because it fails to take into account the speciation of metal compounds and environmental factors that enhance environmental risk. Again, bioavailability is a better measure of metal's environmental risk that takes into account a chemical's speciation and site specific factors.

EPA's draft RCRA PBT List fails to consider the various species of metal compounds that exhibit vastly different toxicity data and hazard potential. For example, no distinction is made between the soluble cupric ion, the principal toxic species of copper, and the sparingly soluble copper compounds that comprise most of the total copper measured in the environment, which are not bioavailable and, therefore, do not cause toxicity. EPA's methodology inappropriately scores the toxicity of copper by basing it on the most toxic, and generally most soluble, species.

The current draft RCRA PBT list is overly simplistic and uses improper assumptions for metals that do not accurately portray the metal's environmental risk. As a result, the draft list is completely meaningless as a waste minimization ranking tool for metals. Although the Agency's PBT methodology may have some validity when applied to organic chemicals, it is not valid when applied to metals. EPA, therefore, should develop a separate tool for metals that uses different criteria that more accurately assess metals' potential environmental risk.

A number of international bodies, including several in which EPA has participated, have recognized that PBT criteria are not appropriate measures of environmental risk for metals. They include the North American Working Group on Sound Management of Chemicals, Task Force on Criteria; The Canada/European Union's 1996 Working Group; and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ("OECD") Advisory Group on the Harmonization of Classification and Labeling. The latter concluded in 1998 that, "[b]iodegradability is not an appropriate parameter for assessing metals...For inorganic compounds and metals, the concept of degradability as applied to organic compounds has limited or no meaning. Rather, the substance may be transformed by normal environmental processes to either increase or decrease the bioavailability of the toxic species. Equally, the use of bioaccumulation data should be treated with care."

The Agency should follow the actions of OECD and these other groups that are attempting to develop a protocol to assess the transformation of metals to bioavailable species and the resulting application of this data to hazard identification. Absent modification, EPA's current approach will subject benign metal species, such as the sparingly soluble forms of copper, to overregulation without any reduction in environmental risk.

III. TRI IS INAPPROPRIATE DATABASE FOR MEASURING RCRA PROGRAM SUCCESS

In its November 9 Notice, EPA stated that it had "selected the TRI as the primary database for measuring national PBT chemical reductions in hazardous wastes". 63 FR 60334. The TRI database, however, should not be used to track and measure PBT reductions in RCRA wastes because TRI reporting requirements apply to materials that do not meet the definition of a "hazardous solid waste" under RCRA.

For example, the PWB industry generates numerous manufacturing by-products that contain copper. Many of these by-products meet the RCRA definition of "scrap metal" or other exclusions that remove the materials from RCRA jurisdiction. Because there is little or no correlation between the chemicals tracked in the TRI system and RCRA hazardous wastes, it makes no sense for the Agency to use the TRI database to measure the success of the Agency's RCRA hazardous waste recycling/source reduction efforts.

If EPA insists on using TRI data in tracking "progress" in reducing PBT chemicals in hazardous wastes, the agency should only include TRI data related to chemicals that are treated or disposed of, and should not include TRI data on recycling. Otherwise the agency's quantity criterion will be unfairly skewed, which could easily lead to undue efforts and resources being applied to already highly-recycled metals.

IV. EPA SHOULD CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO ENCOURAGE THE SOURCE REDUCTION/RECYCLING OF METALS

IPC supports the Agency's waste minimization and recycling goals; however, IPC opposes the use of the draft RCRA PBT List to encourage the industry to increase its waste minimization/recycling efforts for copper-bearing materials. The electronic interconnection industry is highly dependent upon the use of copper as a raw material in its manufacturing operations. There is currently no alternative to copper for creating highly reliable interconnections. As a result, source reduction is not a feasible goal for the industry.

Instead, the Agency should focus on encouraging the industry to recycle its copper-bearing by-products. For example, the Agency should provide regulatory incentives for companies that recycle RCRA solid wastes, such as copper-bearing wastewater treatment sludges (RCRA listed hazardous waste -- F006). Delisting F006 when it is recycled would encourage facilities to recover this valuable recyclable material instead of landfilling it. Such regulatory changes would create a greater incentive for the electronic interconnection industry to recycle its copper-bearing by-products than the draft PBT RCRA List.

V. CONCLUSION

As detailed above, metals, and copper in particular, should not be considered PBT substances under the draft RCRA PBT list. The IPC supports Agency efforts to encourage the electronic interconnection industry to recycle its copper-bearing manufacturing by-products; however, the draft RCRA PBT List misrepresents the environmental risk caused by such by-products and, therefore, should not be used to encourage waste minimization and recycling efforts. Furthermore, if EPA continues to develop the list, EPA should ensure that the tool is subject to all regulatory procedures, including a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) review panel, since, once developed, EPA acknowledges that the RCRA PBT List will be used in conjunction with regulatory activities (e.g., voluntarily implementing pollution prevention measures to meet permit compliance requirements). See, 62 Fed. Reg. 60334 (November 9, 1998).

IPC appreciates this opportunity to present the electronic interconnection industry's comments on the draft RCRA PBT List. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at (202) 333-2331.

Sincerely,

Holly Evans

Director of Environmental and Safety Programs