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EPA moves to ban uses of trichloroethylene

Proposal would prohibit some uses of common solvent to protect workers, consumers

by Britt E. Erickson
December 15, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 49

Credit: Shutterstock
Dry cleaners will no longer be allowed to use trichloroethylene to remove stains under a proposed EPA regulation.
): Photo of a dry cleanerremoving a spot.
Credit: Shutterstock
Dry cleaners will no longer be allowed to use trichloroethylene to remove stains under a proposed EPA regulation.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) would no longer be permitted in aerosol degreasers and stain removers, which are used by dry-cleaning facilities, under a regulation proposed Dec. 7 by EPA.

The action marks the first time in more than 20 years that EPA has tried to use its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to restrict the use of a hazardous chemical.

EPA concluded in 2014 that TCE in spot cleaning agents and aerosol spray degreasers could pose health risks to workers and consumers. TCE is a known human carcinogen, and studies have associated the chemical with neurological, developmental, and immunological toxicity.

The agency’s 2014 assessment also found risks associated with the use of TCE in commercial vapor degreasing, but EPA is working on a separate regulation to address those risks. The chemical industry is strongly opposed to restricting that particular use.

TCE is one of the first 10 chemicals that EPA will evaluate for risk under the revised TSCA, which was enacted in June. The agency plans to use its new authorities to assess all remaining uses of the chemical.

“For the first time in a generation, we are able to restrict chemicals already in commerce that pose risks to public health and the environment,” says Jim Jones, EPA assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention. “I am confident that the new authority Congress has given us is exactly what we need to finally address these important issues,” he says.

The last time EPA tried to restrict the use of a toxic chemical under TSCA was in 1989 when it banned asbestos. A federal appeals court, however, overturned that ban two years later.

EPA expects to have an easier time under the revised law because it no longer has to show that restriction of each use is the least burdensome way to reduce the risk. The new law allows EPA to restrict a chemical “to the extent necessary” to reduce the risk.



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