Widely used solvent TCE contaminates water supplies across the U.S.; sickens millions in workplaces and communities
Health advocates nationwide applaud proposal and urge quick adoption
WASHINGTON, DC—This week, U.S. EPA assistant administrator for the U.S. EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff announced a proposed ban on the manufacture, processing, and use of trichloroethylene (TCE), a toxic chemical that has been widely detected in drinking water and is used in stain removers, degreasers, and a range of industrial processes.
Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, the federal policy program of Toxic-Free Future, organized a broad coalition of local, state, and national groups to win reforms of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to enable EPA to take action on dangerous chemicals like TCE. Since passage of the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act in 2016, TFF has worked with allies in the environmental health community to press for aggressive implementation of the law.
Health advocacy organizations in Washington, DC and in states across the country applaud EPA’s proposal to ban TCE and urge its quick adoption. Clean and Healthy, Clean Water Action, and Toxic-Free Future released the following statements in response to this news.
“For far too long, workers and communities across the country have been exposed to and made sick by this known dangerous chemical. As we’ve waited for EPA action, families and communities have suffered its devastating health effects,” said Liz Hitchcock, Director of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, the federal policy program of Toxic-Free Future. “We campaigned for passage of TSCA‘s 2016 reforms to enable EPA to take actions like this on dangerous chemicals. We look forward to working with the EPA to quickly finalize this rule.”
“Because of the harm it poses to workers and communities, TCE has no business in today’s industries, and that’s why New York State banned the chemical effective December 2021,” said Bobbi Wilding, Executive Director of Clean+Healthy. “For almost two years, businesses have continued to function without toxic TCE. We are pleased that EPA has followed states like New York in proposing to restrict it. They should finalize the rule promptly to protect the health of everyone across the U.S.”
“We’re grateful the EPA is proposing this rule to ban toxic TCE across the country. This will save lives, protect the environment, and finish what Minnesota started in 2020,” said Avonna Starck, Minnesota State Director of Clean Water Action. “It is vital that we prioritize the health and safety of the environment and our community by implementing strong rules against the toxic chemicals that make us sick. This rule will save countless lives and billions of dollars related to healthcare costs, missed work, and environmental cleanup.”
BACKGROUND ON TCE
Trichloroethylene (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).
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.
A timeline of EPA and advocacy actions on TCE include:
- In a 2014 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.
- On 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.
- On 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.
- In 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. In January 2021, EPA officially withdrew both rules.
- In 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.
- In 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.
CLEAN AND HEALTHY
Clean+Healthy’s mission is to build a just and healthy society in which toxic chemicals are unthinkable. Our work changes laws, shifts markets, and empowers people to advance innovative solutions and create a sustainable economy. We envision a clean, safe, and healthy world where all people are free to grow and thrive. www.cleanandhealthy.org/
CLEAN WATER ACTION
Clean Water Action works at the national, state, and local level to develop strong, community-based environmental leadership and bring together diverse constituencies to work cooperatively for policies that improve lives and protect water. Clean Water Action has been in Minnesota since 1982, focused on finding solutions to health, consumer, environmental, and community problems and working to protect our water and our people. www.cleanwater.org
Toxic-Free Future is a national leader in environmental health research and advocacy. Through the power of science, education, and activism, Toxic-Free Future drives strong laws and corporate responsibility that protects the health of all people and the planet. www.toxicfreefuture.org