Tricholoroethylene (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).
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 the same section of 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 TCE. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families released a report and an accompanying fact sheet on December 20, 2017 showing that while some industrial firms are phasing out use of this toxic chemical for vapor degreasing, the vast majority seem 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 January 2021, EPA officially withdrew both rules.
Nine entities manufactured or imported almost 225 million pounds of TCE in the U.S. in 2011, according to Chemical Data Reporting by the chemical industry to EPA. The manufacturers who disclosed their names were Dow Chemical and Solvchem Inc. in Texas and PPG Industries and Shin Etsu in Louisiana. Two entities claimed their names as confidential business information.
EPA classifies TCE as carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure.
EPA has found that TCE has the potential to induce neurotoxicity, immunotoxicity, developmental toxicity, liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, and endocrine effects.
EPA states that TCE is present in drinking water, indoor environments, surface water, ambient air, groundwater, and soil. EPA’s 2014 risk assessment did not include an assessment of environmental impacts; the potential environmental impacts associated with the assessed TCE uses were judged “low” based on the chemical’s moderate persistence, low bioaccumulation, and low hazard for aquatic toxicity.
172 facilities reported that they disposed of or otherwise released almost 2 million pounds of TCE in 2015, according to EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory.
According to EPA’s June 2014 risk assessment, vulnerable populations include:
- Pregnant women and the developing fetus, when using TCE-containing spray degreaser as consumers
- Workers (including pregnant women) using or exposed on the job to TCE-containing vapor degreasers (and to a lesser extent, those using spot cleaners in dry cleaning facilities). Note: OSHA has established various limits for workers in different industries.
Alternatives to using TCE as a degreaser include using solvents in closed loop systems, or switching to aqueous cleaners or using other mechanical cleaning techniques. A variety of spray fixative protective coatings on the market do not contain TCE.
Action Under EU’S Reach
Under REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), TCE is classified as a “substance of very high concern,” and requires authorization before it is used.
For more information:
- EPA, Trichloroethylene
- Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, Toxic Vaping report and fact sheet
- EPA, TSCA Work Plan Chemical Risk Assessment for Trichloroethylene
- Toxics Use Reduction Institute, TCE Alternatives
- The CASRN for TCE is 79-01-6. (The Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number is a unique numerical identifier assigned to each chemical and is useful for accessing additional information.)