EPA to Regulate Dioxin in Paper Industry

[EPA press release - April 30, 1990]

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it is taking action to develop regulations to reduce dioxin contamination in waterways and soil caused by the manufacture of chlorine-bleached pulp and paper. The Agency is also working closely with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that the already low risks posed by dioxin in food packaging are further reduced.

EPA, FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have jointly worked to address the dioxin risks associated with the production of chlorine bleached wood pulp from 104 mills (of approximately 600 pulp and paper mills in the United States). Based on that risk assessment, the three agencies have concluded that low levels of dioxin associated with chlorine bleaching of wood pulp pose a risk significant enough to require regulatory control.

"Even though dioxin levels in paper products are small enough to be no cause for alarm, our intention is to reduce those levels even more," said EPA Deputy Administrator Hank Habicht.

"We do, however, believe the risk to consumers of certain fish from waters downstream from some of these mills to be more significant. EPA is taking actions that will greatly lower dioxin discharges into those waters. EPA will also intensify its cooperation with states to identify hotspots and make sure fishing advisories and bans are in place where necessary," Habicht said.

Of greatest concern to EPA is the need to reduce levels of dioxin discharged from pulp and paper mils into rivers and streams. EPA has committed to addressing this problem through the aggressive application of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and the revision of existing effluent guideline regulations for this industry.

In addition, EPA will develop standards, using a combination of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) authorities, to address the risks associated with the disposal of wastewater treatment sludge from pulp and paper mills. The Agency is concerned with the possible effects of both human health and wildlife of using sludge from paper mills as a soil conditioner.

Finally, EPA and FDA have concluded that although the risk to consumers from dioxin in food contact products is small, this risk can and should be further reduced. EPA and FDA will be working together to address this problem, with FDA taking the lead responsibility.

The agency's announcement today is consistent with the requirements of a 1988 consent decree between EPA, The Environmental Defense Fund, and The National Wildlife Federation. The consent decree set a schedule for EPA to make decisions on the need for regulation to control health and environmental risks associated with dioxin-contaminated effluent, sludge and paper products.

The decree specified that by April 30, 1990, EPA must take one or more of the following actions: announce its schedule for proposing regulations; refer some or all of the matters under consideration to another agency or agencies; determine that regulations or referrals are unnecessary, providing a justification for that determination; determine that the Agency lacks sufficient information to act and provide a schedule to obtain additional information.

Although the FDA and CPSC were not parties to the consent decree, they have worked directly with EPA by conducting risk assessments for paper products under their respective jurisdictions and in supporting EPA in making decisions under the consent decree.

EPA is committing to the following specific actions:

Pulp and Paper Mill Effluent

EPA and the states are now developing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits to ensure that the discharges from chlorine-bleaching pulp and paper mills meet all applicable requirements of the Clean Water Act. These discharges must achieve the more stringent of either water-quality-based effluent limitations (derived to meet state water quality standards) or technology-based limitations which EPA is developing (based on the capability of existing technology). Section 304(l) of the Clean Water Act requires that control strategies (defined by EPA as draft or final NPDES permits) be issued for all mills whose effluent could endanger human health or the environment. These strategies are to be issued by June 4, 1990, and will be implemented through enforceable permits requiring compliance by June, 1992, for state permits or by June, 1993, for EPA permits.

States with chlorine bleaching pulp mills in their jurisdiction were required to adopt water quality standards by February 4, 1990. Twenty-one states have met this requirement so far and EPA announced in mid-April that it will promulgate standards for any of these states that needs but has not adopted standards for dioxin (and other priority pollutants).

In addition to these health-based control strategies, EPA is developing effluent limitation guidelines and standards under the authority of the CWA to reduce dioxin contamination and total chlorinated organics from the manufacture of bleached paper products. These standards, based on the best available, economically achievable technologies, are expected to focus on process changes designed to prevent pollution from occurring in the first place. Such changes should reduce dioxin contamination in sludge and pulp, as well as in waste water. EPA is already developing these standards and will issue proposed regulations in 1993, with final regulations expected in 1995.

Pulp and Paper Sludge

The Agency will issue standards under TSCA and will determine whether to regulate under RCRA to address risk from the disposal of dioxin-contaminated wastewater treatment sludge from pulp and paper mills.

The TSCA rule will address the practice of using sludge from pulp and paper mills as a soil conditioner. RCRA authority will be used to establish guidelines for best management practices for landfills and sludge lagoons that contain sludge from pulp and paper mills.

Food Contact Papers

EPA will ask the FDA to formally take responsibility for managing risks for dioxin in food contact papers. The FDA has already been working actively and cooperatively with EPA on this issue. The referral is a formal step the Agency is taking under the terms of the consent agreement.

Dioxin Pollution Prevention Has Already Begun; Today's Action Will Accelerate that Trend

In addition to the actions taken under the consent agreement, EPA is proposing a pollution-prevention initiative that will involve industry, environmental groups, other federal agencies, states and the international regulatory community. The purpose of the initiative is to accelerate pollution reduction through process modifications and using substitutes for chlorine. Elements of the initiative will include an ongoing dialogue among the interested parties regarding further actions, information exchange with Canada, West Germany, Sweden and other nations, technology transfer and public information efforts. This pollution-prevention effort is not part of the response to the consent agreement.

Since the discovery of the dioxin problem, several paper companies have begun to reduce the formation of dioxins. Some have already achieved significant reductions of dioxins in their effluents. In addition, manufacturers of paper milk cartons have significantly reduced the levels of dioxin in their products and manufacturers of other paper products have indicated that they are taking similar actions. EPA and FDA will assure that these efforts are undertaken by all mills that need to reduce dioxin in their processes to protect human health and the environment.

Dixon is a generic term for a group of 75 related chemical compounds known as polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins. Dioxin is an unwanted by-product created by the manufacture of some chemical products, by certain combustion processes and by treating wood pulp with chlorine bleaching processes to make white paper.

Dioxin is a highly toxic chemical and is a probable human carcinogen. Dioxin persists in the environment and can accumulate in the tissue of fish, other wildlife and humans. It has caused cancer, liver dysfunction and toxic effects in laboratory animals.