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Chemical Regulation

EPA cracks down on dry-cleaning solvent perchloroethylene

Agency proposes to ban all consumer uses and some commercial applications

by Britt E. Erickson
June 9, 2023

Clean shirts wrapped in plastic on a hanging rack at a dry cleaner.
Credit: Shutterstock
The US Environmental Protection Agency proposes to phase out the use of perchloroethylene in dry cleaning within 10 years.

The US Environmental Protection Agency is moving ahead with plans to restrict the widely used dry-cleaning solvent perchloroethylene, also known as perc or PCE. Under a proposed rule, announced June 8, perchloroethylene would be phased out from all consumer uses within 2 years and from its use in dry cleaning within 10 years.

Chemical manufacturers would still be allowed to use perchloroethylene to make the hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants HFC-125 and HFC-134a with strict worker safety protections. The proposed regulation would also allow the use of perchloroethylene in petrochemical manufacturing and limited aerospace applications.

In 2020, the EPA identified dozens of uses of perchloroethylene that pose health risks, including neurological, kidney, liver, and immunological effects, to workers and consumers.

“We know that exposure to PCE is dangerous for people’s health, and today’s rule is an important first step to keeping communities and workers safe,” Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, says in a statement. “We’ve proposed to ban the uses we know can’t continue safely, and we’ve made sure that stringent controls are in place to protect workers for the uses that remain.”

The proposed rule shows that the EPA’s approach to risk management is evolving, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), which represents chemical manufacturers, says in an emailed statement. The industry group points out that “more applications are proposed for workplace regulation rather than outright prohibitions,” and EPA acknowledges potential impacts on small businesses. But the ACC is concerned about the EPA’s proposed limits for workplace exposure to perchloroethylene, claiming the limits are much lower than those set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Perchloroethylene is one of the first 10 chemicals that the EPA is planning to regulate under revisions made to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 2016. So far, the agency has proposed regulations for only two other substances—asbestos and methylene chloride. The agency is years behind schedule and has repeatedly told Congress that it can’t meet its statutory deadlines without additional resources.

Some states have stepped in to regulate perchloroethylene in the absence of federal rules. California began phasing it out in dry cleaning in 2007 after identifying the chemical as a toxic air contaminant in 1991. The deadline to stop using perchloroethylene in dry cleaning operations in California was Jan. 1, 2023.

The EPA will accept public comments on its proposed rule for 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.



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