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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

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Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic Chemicals (PBTs)

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What are PBTs?

Recently there has been significant new emphasis on a class of old problems: Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic chemicals, or PBTs. These include such infamous substances as: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); dioxins and furans; heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and chromium; existing and banned pesticides; and other chemicals with PBT characteristics. PBT pollutants pose risks because they are toxic even in small quantities, persist in ecosystems, bioaccumulate in food chains, and can travel great distances (via equipment or products, food, or the environment). The threats are widely recognized, and the environmental legacy of PBTs is clear as well:

  • 39 states have issued mercury advisories for more than 50,000 water bodies nationally.
  • hundreds of waterbodies in Region 9 are listed as impaired due to mercury, dioxin, PCBs, and other PBT chemicals
  • California and Arizona have to establish Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for numerous waterbodies due to PBT contamination, including the Sacramento River and the San Francisco Bay and Delta. This may require industries, Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs), and stormwater agencies to reduce PBT loadings.
  • The largest Region 9 industrial operations released a total of more than 3.5 million pounds of potential PBT chemicals, according to 1996 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data.
While much progress has been made to reduce loadings, PBTs continue to threaten human and ecosystem health. And since PBT pollutants transfer easily among air, water, and land, and span boundaries of geography and generations, environmental agencies increasingly recognize that they need to go beyond single-media control approaches.

EPA's National Efforts

The USEPA has developed a draft national strategy to address priority PBT pollutants. The goal of this Agencywide, multimedia strategy is to identify and reduce risks to human health and the environment from existing and future exposure to priority PBT pollutants. Under the Strategy, the Agency will develop Action Plans for Priority PBT Pollutants, employing EPA's full range of tools (international, voluntary, regulatory, programmatic, compliance, enforcement, research) to prevent and reduce releases of these pollutants.

Many state and local government agencies and nonprofits across the country also are working to reduce releases of, and exposure to, PBTs. For example, they are conducting projects focused on reducing PBT waste in industries such as hospitals, chlor-alkali facilities, and metal finishing; investigating PBT sources in their communities; and educating the general public about their role in reducing PBT risks.

Regional Efforts

While tracking national developments, EPA Region 9 is also working to reduce the release and generation of PBTs in Region 9, and improve coordination on regional PBT issues. The Region 9 Pollution Prevention Team supports efforts by state, local, and non-profit Pollution Prevention providers to identify priority PBT pollutants and sources for targeted source reduction efforts. Region 9 has provided funding to the support the following projects:

Region 9 Hospital Pollution Prevention Project: Seeks to reduce waste, including mercury, generated by hospitals, and waste sent for incineration, which is a potential source of dioxin emissions.

Bay Area Dioxin Pollution Prevention Project: Exiting EPA (disclaimer)The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) is assisting San Francisco Bay Area cities and towns to explore and implement projects to reduce dioxin emissions. The project includes a community liason to provide information to local governments, regulatory agencies, and community groups on dioxins-related issues.

For more information on EPAs PBT Initiative, contact John Katz at EPA Region 9, (415) 744-2150, katz.john@epa.gov

More Information on PBTs

The following are links to what other programs are doing within the initiative and independently.

EPA Mercury
Includes general and technical information about mercury, current actions being taken by EPA, and fish advisories

National EPA PBT Chemical Initiative
EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics

PBTs in Air
EPA Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards

PBTs in Water
EPA Office of Science and Technology

PBTs in the Great Lakes
EPA Great Lakes National Program Office

PBTs Internationally
EPA Office of International Activities

Measuring PBTs
EPA Toxic Release Inventory

Screening New PBT Chemicals
EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics

PBTs Regionally and Locally
EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics

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Guide to PBTs  Exiting EPA (disclaimer)
Pacific Northwest P2 Resource Center. Provides itemized list of many PBTs, and industries and consumer products utilizing each PBT. May help P2 providers identify priority industries or groups (consumers, workers) for outreach efforts.

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