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Fact Sheet

Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

Multimedia Strategy For Priority Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic (PBT) Chemicals

The Problem

Persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic pollutants (PBTs) are highly toxic,  long-lasting substances that can build up in the food chain to levels that are harmful to human and ecosystem health. They are associated with a range of adverse human health effects, including effects on the nervous system, reproductive and developmental problems, cancer, and genetic impacts. EPA's challenge in reducing risks from PBTs stems from the pollutant's ability to travel long distances, to transfer rather easily among air, water, and land, and to linger for generations in people and the environment.

EPA is committed to protecting children and women of child-bearing years from exposure to PBTs, and reducing the concentration of PBTs in our environment.

The populations at risk, especially to PBTs such as mercury, dioxins, and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), are children and the developing fetus. EPA's challenge in reducing risks from PBTs stems from the pollutants' ability to travel long distances, to transfer rather easily among air, water, and land and to linger for generations in people and the environment.

The populations at risk, especially to PBTs such as mercury, dioxins and PCBs are children and the developing fetus. Although, over the years much work has been done to reduce the risk associated with these chemicals, the nation still finds them in its fish supply. The total number of advisories in the United States increased by 80% from 1993 to 1997 and the number of waterbodies under advisory increased from 1,278 to 2,299. Only 17 States and territories have stayed at the same level or have had a decrease in the number of advisories since 1993. In the other 38 states, advice to restrict or avoid eating the fish have increased. Six states have increased advisories more than 30% and 13 states had added statewide advisories applying to all fresh water, all coastal waters, or both. All of the substances that are causing the advisories are PBTs. While some may argue that a part of this increase may be due to the fact that the states are doing a better job of monitoring and setting protective levels, the facts are clear that we have much work ahead of us to reduce the risks of these PBT chemicals.

Map: Change in number of advisories from 1993 to 1997

In addition, the following states have issued statewide advisories for certain types of waters due to PBTs: ME, VT, NH, MA, RI, CT, NJ, NY, OH, IN, MI, MO, NC, AL, FL, LA, and TX.

The goal of EPA's strategy is to further reduce risks to human health and the environment from existing and future exposure to priority PBT pollutants

Four Main Elements of EPA's Strategy:

  1. Develop and implement national action plans to reduce priority PBT pollutants, utilizing the full range of EPA tools;
  2. Continue to screen and select more priority PBT pollutants for action;
  3. Prevent new PBTs from entering the marketplace; and,
  4. Measure progress of these actions against our Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) goals and national commitments.

EPA's First 12 Priority PBT Pollutants
From the Canada-US Binational Toxics Strategy

{bullet} aldrin/dieldrin {bullet} mercury
{bullet} benzo(a)pyrene {bullet} mirex
{bullet} chlordane {bullet} octachlorostyrene
{bullet} DDT, DDP, DDE {bullet} PCBs
{bullet} hexachlorobenzene {bullet} dioxins and furans
{bullet} alkyl-lead {bullet} toxaphene


Why Is a Strategy Needed?

To date, EPA actions to reduce emissions of PBTs have been largely separate regulatory activities aimed at different environmental media (air, water, or land). Such actions will now be better coordinated to assure, for example, that regulations removing the pollutant from air do not inadvertently result in transferring the pollution to the land or water. Developing an Agency-wide strategy enables EPA to harness all of  its tools -- voluntary, regulatory, international, enforcement, compliance, and research -- and direct them at a set of priority pollutants of common concern to all EPA program offices.

How will EPA Make This Strategy Work?

EPA's strategy outlines a number of actions the Agency will take to reduce exposures to and uses of PBTs. Some of the near-term actions include:

Preventing the introduction of new PBTs into commerce that may pose an unreasonable risk to human health and the environment, and to require testing to confirm a chemical's PBT status. (Refer to TSCA New Chemicals Federal Register Notice dated 10/5/98.

Encouraging voluntary reductions of priority PBTs in hazardous waste. EPA's Office of Solid Waste has challenged industry to voluntarily target priority PBTs found in hazardous waste for waste minimization activities.  (Having proposed a list of 53 PBTs for this purpose in the draft RCRA PBT List in the Federal Register Notice dated 11/9/98, the Office of Solid Waste is now re-evaluating that list based on stakeholder comments.)

Giving the public information on mercury emissions from utilities.  Beginning in 1999, EPA will require utilities to conduct coal and emissions sampling for mercury in order to analyze the link between mercury emissions and sources.

Increasing the public's right-to-know about local sources of PBT emissions. EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program issued a rule in 1998 to add certain PBTs to the Toxics Release Inventory and lower reporting thresholds for PBTs already on TRI so that the public can be informed about these pollutants.

Evaluating fish in U.S. water bodies for PBT contamination. EPA's Office of Water will conduct a comprehensive study of PBT contamination in fish tissue as an indication of PBT contamination in our nation's water bodies.

Why are Partnerships so Important?

EPA cannot do this alone and will rely on close cooperation with its regulatory partners to carry out these shared priorities. EPA will need their input to ensure that local and regional PBT problems are adequately addressed. Additionally, EPA will be engaging in partnerships with industry, environmental groups, and the public and will strive to fully involve stakeholders. Long-term success will be based on cooperative efforts that are mutually beneficial. The following partnerships exemplify the spirit of EPA's Strategy:

How do I find out More?

For copies of EPA's Draft PBT Strategy and other related documents, call the Pollution Prevention Information Clearinghouse at (202) 566-0799 or via email at ppic@epa.gov, or go to: Strategy and Action Plans in this Web site.

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