The US EPA has denied an NGO’s petition to prohibit the use of hydrofluoric acid in manufacturing processes at oil refineries under TSCA, continuing the agency’s trend of rejecting such requests.

Filed under section 21 of the law by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) in August, the petition argued that the substance – used as a catalyst in alkylation processes – presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment. And it called for the EPA to issue a section 6(a) rule to prohibit oil refineries from using it in manufacturing processes and requiring them to phase out its use within two years.

But in a 12 November response, the EPA announced it is denying the petition, due to “lack of sufficient facts establishing that it is necessary for the agency to issue a rule under TSCA section 6(a)”.

More specifically, the agency said that in order to make a finding that the substance presents an unreasonable risk, it would need hazard and exposure data to make this determination. And the petition also would need to set forth why a section 6(a) rule is the appropriate response for addressing these concerns.

In the case of the PEER petition, said the EPA, the organisation included hazard databases and made statements with respect to the substance’s toxicity, but did not include analysis that would be expected in a TSCA risk evaluation preceding regulatory action – such as a discussion of an appropriate hazard threshold, exposure estimates and an assessment of risk.

In the absence of “such minimal factual information, EPA cannot make the threshold determinations necessary to substantively assess and grant a petition for a TSCA section 6(a) rulemaking. As a result, EPA denies PEER’s petition request as facially incomplete,” it said.

Section 21 petition determinations, litigation

The EPA’s determination on PEER’s request is largely in line with a 2017 decision to deny a petition to issue a section 6 rule to prohibit the intentional addition of fluoride chemicals to drinking water.

At the time, the agency had told petitioning organisations that it believes the law requires it to have a scientific basis that is “reasonably comparable in quality and scope” to a risk evaluation conducted under TSCA.

And since then, the agency also denied two separate petitions to require expanded reporting for asbestos under the TSCA chemical data reporting (CDR) rule.

However, the EPA has been taken to court over each of these decisions. And stakeholders are closely watching the ongoing litigation, as each case has the potential to set precedents for how the TSCA petition process can be used to address chemical-specific issues.