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May 11, 2023

WA State Printers Face Shutting Their Doors Forever

Washington State Print Manufacturers are currently waiting on the results of the state’s petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The petition would ban paint and printing inks with chlorine-based pigments that create PCBs as a biproduct. If it goes through, the outcome effects would devastate business incoming and local.

“‘This bill would devastate our business, and all other printing businesses in the state, let alone the downhill effect on the industries [served] and the public.’” (Print Impressions)

Washington State has been fighting to have Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) fully removed from their state due to previous pollution from former manufacturers. In Seattle, hundreds of millions have been spent to remediate a portion of the lower Duwamish River which was a hotspot for PCBs. They made their way into nearby soils and the river, paints and runway caulking from a Boeing plant.

PCBs were banned in 1979 under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) and are carcinogenic as well as developmentally toxic. Additionally, they are very difficult to break down. PCBs can bioaccumulate in an area and work its way up the food chain due to its lipid solubility. The TSCA was amended in 2016, due to the backlash it received for a lack of scope and authority.  The Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act amends the act providing the EPA a consistent funding source and increase in transparency of chemical information. Plus, they also have the explicit authority to regulate new chemicals before they enter the market.

Fast forward to 2023, to the current argument around printing inks and pigments. Chlorine based pigments when used in printing, create an unintended byproduct, PCBs. The trace amounts that are on paper and packaging accumulate to add up to over 25ppm when testing water at recycling plants.

Washington state is looking to have the EPA re-evaluate manufacturing processes that have PCBs as a bi-product and assess if there are other ink alternatives that could be used. According to the Ecology Department of Washington State, alternatives exist. Critics disagree given that different ink compounds have a different appearance and fastness level. Not to mention, a different organic makeup. What the state is asking would require a significant monetary investment to study PCB congeners individually. There are 209 congeners individually that can provide a multitude of different PCB mixtures. Right now, only the PCB mixtures have been banned under the Act of 1979 and the amendment of 2016. Washington state wants to go a step further in clean up.

The printing association, Print Impressions, continues to monitor the situation and oppose regulations since the Department of Energy has demonstrated the level of PCBs in ink is not a threat to human health or the environment.

Please note the above information has been pulled from the several sources listed below:

Printing Impressions

National Institute of Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621189/


Washington State Department of Ecology_PCBs in Washington State Products: Printing Inks, 2021  https://apps.ecology.wa.gov/publications/documents/2203001.pdf

Washington State Department of Ecology_Polychlorinated biphenyls in pigments: inadvertent production and environmental significance

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