The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced this month that it is proposing to ban trichloroethylene (TCE) due to health risks when used as a degreaser and a spot remover in dry cleaning. Specifically, EPA is proposing to prohibit manufacture or import, processing, and distribution of TCE for use in aerosol degreasing and for use in spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities. The ban will go into effect in 60 days. The Administrative Procedure Act requires that agencies issue a notice of proposed rulemaking , provide an opportunity for public comments, issue a final rule with a concise statement of its basis and purpose, and make the final rule effective a minimum of 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
TCE is a volatile organic compound (VOC). It is a clear, colorless liquid that has a sweet odor and evaporates quickly. It is a dense non aqueous phase liquid that can pass rapidly through cracks and imperfections in concrete and asphalt and through the materials themselves and can travel great distances in groundwater. EPA estimates that 250 million pounds of TCE are used each year in the United States.
TCE is a toxic chemical with human health concerns. EPA identified serious health risks to workers and consumers associated with TCE in a 2014 assessment that concluded that the chemical can cause a range of adverse health effects, including cancer, development and neurotoxicological effects, and toxicity to the liver.
In 1930, trichloroethylene (TCE) was introduced as a dry cleaning solvent in the United States. TCE was found to cause the bleeding of some acetate dyes at temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so it was never widely used in this country as a primary dry cleaning solvent. TCE is; however, still widely used as a dry-side pre-cleaning or spotting agent and in water repellent agents. Nothing removes lipstick from silk like TCE and it is the principle ingredient in Fast PR, 2-1 Formula, Picrin, Puro, SemiWet Spotter, Spra-Dri and Volatile Dry spotter (V.D.S.).
The majority (about 84 %) of TCE is used in a closed system as an intermediate chemical for manufacturing refrigerant chemicals. Much of the remainder (about 15 %) is used as a solvent for metals degreasing, leaving a small percentage to account for other uses, including use as a spotting agent in dry cleaning and in consumer products. This rule follows a July 2015 agreement that EPA reached with manufacturers to voluntarily phase-out the use of TCE in its aerosol arts and crafts spray fixative product and ensure that EPA will have the opportunity to review any effort to resume or begin new consumer uses of TCE.
EPA also found risks associated with TCE use in vapor degreasing, and the agency is developing a separate proposed regulatory action to address those risks. Last week, EPA announced the inclusion of TCE on the list of the first ten chemicals to be evaluated for risk under TSCA. That action will allow EPA will evaluate the other remaining uses of the chemical. This month’s action only proposes to ban use as a degreaser and spot remover in dry cleaning.