EPA: Ban toxic TCE!
Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a high exposure/high hazard chemical with several known health effects that have long been of deep concern to state and federal agencies, members of the military, labor unions, and the general public. The EPA has determined that virtually every existing condition of use of TCE presents unreasonable risks to workers and users of consumer products.
TCE is a volatile organic compound mostly used to manufacture refrigerant chemicals in a closed system. It is also used as a solvent for degreasing, as a spot cleaner in dry cleaning, and in consumer products (cleaners and solvent degreasers, adhesives, lubricants, hoof polishes, mirror edge sealants, and pepper spray).
TCE air emissions and contaminated groundwater, drinking water, and soil are pervasive across the US and contribute significantly to overall TCE exposure. TCE pollution has become notorious, for example, in White Bear Township, MN; Woburn, MA; and at Marine Corps Camp LeJeune in North Carolina.
EPA classifies TCE as a human carcinogen through all routes of exposure. It is also harmful to male reproduction, causes neurological damage, and is a liver and kidney toxin. It has also been linked to Parkinson’s Disease.
EPA and advocacy actions on TCE
- 2014: In a risk assessment, EPA said that the most vulnerable groups exposed to TCE are pregnant women using TCE-containing household sprays and workers (including pregnant women) using TCE-containing vapor degreasers.
- December 7, 2016: EPA published a proposed rule to ban certain uses of TCE under section 6(a) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as a result of risks to health from its use in commercial and consumer aerosol degreasing and as a spot cleaner in dry cleaning.
- January 11, 2017: EPA issued another proposed rule to prohibit additional uses of TCE under TSCA, based on health risks resulting from the use of TCE in vapor degreasing.
- December 2017: EPA signaled its intent to indefinitely delay key rules to regulate toxic chemicals including the TCE proposals.
- In response, Toxic-Free Future’s federal policy program, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families released a report and fact sheet showing that while some companies were phasing out use of this toxic chemical for vapor degreasing, the vast majority seemed to be holding back to “wait and see” if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ever adopts its proposed ban on the use.
- In addition,Toxic-Free Future called on the EPA to immediately finalize bans on major uses of TCE proposed in 2016 and abandoned by the Trump EPA in 2017, among other recommendations. And, in January 2021, EPA officially withdrew both rules.
- March 2020: After EPA issued a draft risk evaluation for TCE, Toxic-Free Future organized a letter from 30 local, state, and national groups calling on EPA to take immediate action to address the imminent and serious acute risks of both fetal heart defects and other serious health effects presented by TCE.
- January 2023: In its final revised risk determination for TCE (amending EPA’s November 2020 evaluation), EPA found that TCE, as a whole chemical substance, presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health under its conditions of use.
- October 2023: EPA announced a proposed ban on the manufacture, processing, and use of trichloroethylene (TCE), opening a 45 day comment period on the proposal.