EPA embraces new chemical safety law, proposes rule to ban certain uses of trichloroethylene

EPA deserves another pat on the back. The agency is again moving swiftly to use its authority under the chemical safety law passed by Congress earlier this year. Yesterday the agency announced a proposed rule to ban the use of trichloroethylene (TCE) in two specific applications. If adopted, TCE would be prohibited from use as a spot- cleaning agent in dry cleaning operations and as an aerosol spray degreaser in commercial and consumer settings.

Exposure to TCE is associated with adverse health effects to the kidneys, liver, and immune and reproductive systems. It is a developmental toxin, neurotoxin, and carcinogen. EPA has preliminarily concluded that TCE poses an “unreasonable risk of injury to health.” That is the threshold finding, based on the available evidence, the agency must make to take this action under the chemical safety law.

EPA notes that a number of states already prohibit the use of TCE for certain tasks. Ten states, including Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, and Michigan, prohibit TCE from being used in aerosol adhesives, footwear/leather care products, general purpose degreasers, graffiti removers, and other operations. In dry cleaning operations alone, EPA estimates that 105,000 to 168,000 workers are exposed to TCE. A much larger segment of workers are potentially exposed to TCE-containing aerosol spray degreasers. EPA identifies more than 60 industries that could be affected by a ban on those products, such as in furniture manufacturing and electronics manufacturing.

The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at University of Massachusetts Lowell has identified (and tested) non-solvent based degreasers. TURI’s research on alternatives and case studies on effective alternatives to TCE-containing solvents will be more valuable than ever should EPA proceed with the proposed ban. EPA projects that with a ban in place, product innovators will develop additional less-toxic alternatives.

EPA is seeking public comment on the proposal for the next 60 days.

P.S. The agency has another proposal in the works concerning TCE use in vapor degreasing tasks. The draft proposed rule is under review currently at the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.