After almost 30 years, it appears the Environmental Protection Agency's long awaited solvent-contaminated industrial wiper rule (a.k.a. "wiper rule") is on its way to being completed once and for all. On June 25, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced it had finished its review of the highly anticipated rule, completing the last substantive step in the regulatory process before the rule can be published in its final form. As INDA members may recall, the EPA had wrapped up work on its draft final rule and sent it to OMB for review in April 2012, leading stakeholders to believe it would be finalized by the end of last summer.
Unfortunately, the rule stalled at OMB due to a backlog of similar pending regulatory reviews, leading EPA to predict in a recent semi-annual agenda that it would not be completed until October 2013. It is unclear what prompted OMB to conclude its work ahead of schedule, but recent media and Capitol Hill criticism of the delays in regulatory review process, as well as dogged appeals from groups like INDA likely served as a catalyst to move things forward.
Although concrete details will not be available until the rule is signed and released, it is expected the final rule will establish conditions under which single-use wipes used in industrial settings will be exempt from onerous hazardous waste regulations, and users exempt from the related onerous handling and disposal requirements. Meanwhile, laundered shop towels, which are currently only subject to a hodgepodge of much looser and often conflicting state regulations, will be brought into the federal regime, and provided conditions under which they may be exempt from the definition of solid waste.
While the specific timeline is still unclear, if all goes as expected, INDA is hopeful that a final industrial wiper rule will be published by the end of the summer. Once it is, INDA will review the regulatory language and provide its members a summary of the key details.
To learn more about the background of the industrial wiper rule, go to: www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/wastetypes/wasteid/solvents/wipes.htm.
INDA submits comments to CPSC on nonwoven fire barriers
On July 1, INDA submitted comments to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) describing the use of nonwoven fire barrier technologies to inform the Commission as it moves forward on its 20-year effort to develop federal flammability standards for upholstered furniture.
As readers may recall, after many years of work, CPSC published a proposed furniture flammability standard in March 2008. Progress on the standard, however, slowed as the Commission was forced to shift resources towards the implementation of the massive Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act passed in late 2007. Staff, in the meantime, focused its energy on conducting performance testing as set forth in the proposal.
Recently mounting concerns about the dangers of chemical flame retardants, as well CPSC test results that showed great promise for fire barrier technologies prompted the agency to revisit the issue. On March 20, the Commission announced it would hold a public hearing on April 25 and accept written submissions until July 1 on barrier and other fire safety technologies and other questions related to the rulemaking. INDA government affairs staff attended the April 25 hearing and coordinated a task force of ten member companies to prepare a response to the CPSC request. The Commission ultimately received nearly 50 written submissions from individuals and organizations like INDA.
In its submission, INDA detailed the diverse array of technologies its members use to reduce flammability, explaining that some companies rely upon inherently fire retardant fibers while others use chemicals that are known to be safe. While concerns about harmful chemicals including certain fire retardants may be justified, INDA noted there are many safe chemicals that are highly effective in protecting against fire losses, and reiterated its members' commitment to developing technologies that mitigate potential exposure impacts while providing the optimum fire performance available.
In response to Commission questions about whether fire barriers utilized by other industries could be used in upholstered furniture, INDA explained that its members have crafted nonwoven fire barriers to meet flammability standards for mattresses, commercial furniture and airline seating, and can do so to meet an upholstered furniture standard, although most situations will likely require some customization to meet the unique characteristics of the piece of furniture. Fortunately, INDA pointed out, nonwovens are capable of being altered quite easily to address the severity of various burn tests and can be made softer, stronger, thinner and more abrasion resistant according to manufacturers’ specifications.
Although the American Home Furnishings Alliance, an industry group comprised of retailers and furniture, foam and textile manufacturers, argued in its submission that using barriers in upholstered furniture could increase costs anywhere from 13% to more than 40%, INDA emphasized that just as there are many varieties of furniture at many price points, prices will range for nonwoven fire barrier solutions as well. As was the case when the nonwovens industry responded to the mattress flammability standard, INDA said its member companies will develop products that meet whatever standard CPSC adopts for furniture and will work with manufacturers to come up with economical options that suit their needs.
It was the CPSC's request for input on a preferred test method for the standard (i.e. smoldering ignition from smoking materials versus an open flame test, that accounts for exposure to matches, lighters and candles) that proved to be the most divisive among the commenters. INDA argued that while nonwoven barriers are capable of reducing loss and injury from fires caused by smoldering or open flame, a standard that includes an open flame test would maximize fire safety by addressing multiple fire sources. The American Chemistry Council’s North American Flame Retardant Alliance (NAFRA) also supported the need for both an open flame test and smolder test, “to ensure adequate fire safety, and allow compliance flexibility." On the other hand, the Alliance for Toxic-Free Fire Safety and a coalition of individuals and various environmental groups urged the CPSC to adopt a smolder only test, equating an open flame test with a mandate to use toxic chemicals. Furniture industry groups also urged the CPSC to adopt a smolder only test, reasoning that most furniture fires are caused by cigarettes, therefore, most fires can be addressed with less impact on the comfort, styling and cost of furniture.
INDA concluded by reiterating that its members make an array of innovative, versatile nonwoven fire barrier technologies that are safe for the consumer and the environment, and can be modified to meet furniture manufacturers’ specifications at a full range of prices, as well as the specifics of whatever standard the CPSC settles upon. Most importantly, INDA noted, these products are extremely effective at significantly reducing the threat of residential furniture fires that have already cost far too many lives, injuries and property losses.
As it stands, the CPSC has not indicated what the next steps will be, but if the broad range of opinions in the written submission are any indication, the Commission may have its work cut out for it.
To read INDA’s comments, go to: www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=CPSC-2008-0005-0040.