Proposed Ban on Chlorinated Pigments in Ink Will Devastate Printing in Washington State
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In a last minute and shocking action by the Washington State legislature, a bill making its way through the legislative process was amended to include a ban of all printing inks and paints that use chlorinated pigments. If this ban were enacted, it would have a devastating impact on the printing industry because some of the most common inks such as process yellow, or process blue would no longer be allowed to be sold in the state. With the stroke of a pen an entire industry would be prevented from using inks that pose no threat to human health or the environment. In addition, every company that uses printing processes in the state of Washington will be affected.
This unexpected proposal stems from an effort to reduce the Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) that are released into the environment. There are 209 individual PCBs and a good number of them are considered toxic and can bioaccumulate. There appears to be a significant misperception that a chlorinated pigment is either equivalent to a PCB, which it is not, or could contain inadvertently generated PCBs created during its manufacturing process. No evidence has been provided by either the legislature or the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) that the manufacturing of all pigments that contain chlorine create PCBs.
PRINTING United Alliance has been engaging with the DOE since 2020, when the agency began investigating PCBs in inks with the launch of their Safer Products program. In late 2022, DOE halted the development of regulations designed to limit the amount of PCB in inks and paints because the state regulations would be preempted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency regulation. To avoid further preemption by the EPA, the legislature has now proposed a total ban.
In addition to the ban on paint and printing inks with chlorine-based pigments that would become effective January 1, 2025, the legislation allows the DOE to identify additional products by Oct. 1, 2023, that contain inadvertent PCBs and gives them the authority to ban them. Those products will be subject to a ban 12 months after they finalize a rule listing such products, with sell through allowed one year after the ban takes effect.
“This bill would devastate our business, and all other printing businesses in the state, let alone the downhill effect on the industries we serve and the public. I am grateful to PRINTING United Alliance for monitoring the situation and leading the industry to educate the lawmakers to a reasonable outcome,” states Reid Baker, president, superGraphics in Seattle, Washington.
DOE is authorized to exempt the identified products on a case-by-case basis if it can be shown that a product cannot be manufactured without a chlorine containing pigment or one that has inadvertent PCBs. The exemptions must be renewed annually. Any exemption is contingent upon DOE determining that it will not cause harm to human health, the environment, or the ability of entities regulated to comply with water quality standards.
What is well understood is that a byproduct of the manufacturing of some pigments that contain chlorine is the creation of several of the 209 PCBs. The PCBs that are created are referred to as inadvertent PCBs and the allowable amount is highly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The allowable amount is 25 parts per million (ppm) with an average not to exceed 50 parts per million (ppm). The concentration of the PCBs in these pigments is considered a trace amount, which is commonly defined as less than 100 parts per million.
Two of the most common pigments used in four color process printing are diarylide for yellow and phthalocyanine used in cyan. Both pigments contain chlorine and during their manufacturing can create inadvertent PCBs. Testing performed by the DOE in 2022 on several ink samples of water-based inkjet ink and offset lithographic inks indicated that total PCB concentration ranged from 0.0000959 ppm as an estimate, to 40.2ppm for one yellow ink. There was one sample where no PCBs were found. For the 17 printing ink samples with detected levels of PCBs, four had PCBs below 0.01 ppm, four ranged from 0.01 to 0.1 ppm, eight ranged from 0.1 to 10 ppm and one was above 10 ppm. The unexplained and disturbing aspect of the testing performed by DOE is that PCBs were found in all 4 colors of the offset inks that were tested, when only the cyan and yellow should have tested positive for PCBs.
While the measured concentrations of PCBs in inks are extremely low, they are not low enough to warrant an exemption because the DOE set a water quality standard of 7 parts per quadrillion. This standard is so low that it is essentially zero, which means that any PCB that is present – even in a single part per million contained in a product such as paper that has been collected for recycling - would be orders of magnitude (about 300 million times) greater than the water quality standard and most likely be banned because there is at least one paper recycling mills in Washington that would not be able to meet the water quality standard.
Nearly 150 pigments contain chlorine and possible inadvertent PCBs. Many of these pigments are the workhorses for the printing industry and it is unclear if any substitutes are available or could be used in the applications needed by the printing industry. These pigments contain chlorine because they are organic pigments, and it is part of the chemical structure that makes the pigment maintain the required coloristic and fastness properties needed for their applications. Only the availability of these pigments made possible the complete replacement of pigments based on lead, cadmium, mercury and chromium (VI). It is practically impossible to achieve the color shades required by the market without chlorinated pigments.
David Wawer, executive director, Color Pigments Manufacturers Association, said, “Chlorine-based pigments do not generate inadvertent PCBs in the manufacturing process. The legislation is totally misleading and misdirected. This legislation will disrupt Washington state supply chains, impose restrictions on the sale of legal commercial products (printing inks, paints & coatings), and have substantial economic consequences for Washington state businesses and consumers.”
The Alliance also has opposed any regulation on inks in this proposed legislation because the DOE has not demonstrated the presence of PCBs in ink is a threat to human health or the environment. Inks with pigments that have inadvertent PCBs in them are an extremely small, essentially inconsequential contributor to overall PCB contamination. Legacy sources such as transformers, light ballasts, caulking, motor oil and a host of other products are much larger contributors. Achieving a zero PCB situation is not possible given the historical widespread use of them and their prevalence in the environment. The good news is the total PCB concentrations are much lower than they were in the 1970’s when PCBs were banned and can only appear due to being a byproduct manufacturing certain pigment. EPA’s regulations allow for inadvertent creation of them if the product being created meets the strict EPA limits.
If this legislation is passed and signed into law, the impact on the printing industry both within the state of Washington and possibly beyond could be devastating. Any printing performed in the state and any printed product shipped into the state will be affected due to the bans on inks and products that contain inadvertent PCBs. The printing industry employs more than 13,000 people in Washington and pays them wages exceeding $700 Million. Printing companies ship nearly $3 Billion goods each year. SB5369 puts all of these jobs and economic activity in jeopardy.
To take action now, click here. [Note, this is only accessible to Washington State residents or those who own a business with a location in Washington State.]
The Alliance will keep you updated as the situation unfolds.
In this article, Gary Jones, VP of EHS (Environmental, Health & Safety) Affairs, PRINTING United Alliance addresses state/local environmental regulatory issues. More information about environmental regulations can be found at https://www.printing.org/library/business-excellence/environmental-health-safety/safety-health or reach out to Gary should you have additional questions specific to how these issues may affect your business: email@example.com.
To become a member of PRINTING United Alliance and learn more about how our subject matter experts can assist your company with services and resources such as those mentioned in this article, please contact the Alliance membership team: 888-385-3588 / firstname.lastname@example.org.