On October 23, 2023, the EPA announced a proposed rule to ban all uses of trichloroethylene (TCE), an extremely toxic chemical known to cause serious health risks, including cancer, neurotoxicity, and reproductive toxicity.
TCE is used in cleaning and furniture care products, degreasers, brake cleaners, and tire repair sealants. According to the EPA, a variety of safer alternatives are readily available for many uses.
Authority for the proposed rule falls under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This action is expected to protect people from health risks by banning the manufacture, processing, and distribution of TCE for all uses. The Agency’s proposed risk management rule would take effect in one year for consumer products and most commercial uses and would implement stringent worker protections on the limited remaining commercial and industrial uses that would be phased down over a longer period.
“The proposal’s expected exposure reductions to prevent cancer before it starts aligns with President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot, a whole-of-government approach to end cancer as we know it,” states an Agency news release. “The proposal also advances the President’s historic commitment to environmental justice which seeks to address impacts of underinvestment in communities overburdened by legacy pollution and environmental hazards.”
“Today, EPA is taking a vital step in our efforts to advance President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot and protect people from cancer and other serious health risks,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe in the EPA press release. “The science is loud and clear on TCE. It is a dangerous toxic chemical and proposing to ban it will protect families, workers, and communities.”
The EPA’s proposed risk management rule would prohibit most uses of TCE within one year, including TCE manufacture and processing for most commercial and all consumer products. Within this one-year time frame, most people likely to be exposed to TCE would be protected, including workers in many sectors, all consumers, and many communities. For most uses of TCE as a solvent, including consumer products, safer alternatives to TCE are readily available. For limited uses of TCE, such as critical federal agency uses, battery separators used to make electric vehicle batteries, and the manufacture of certain refrigerants that are being phased down nationally while industry transitions to more climate-friendly refrigerants, the proposal would provide a longer transition period while requiring stringent worker protections to reduce exposures in the near term.
Furthermore, to support cleanup activities at sites of past TCE contamination (e.g., Superfund sites), the EPA is proposing to allow for essential lab use and proper disposal of TCE wastewater to continue for 50 years—also subject to workplace protections.
Specific proposed restrictions include the following:
- Prohibits the manufacture (including import), processing, and distribution in commerce of TCE for all uses (including all consumer uses);
- Prohibits the industrial and commercial use of TCE;
- Prohibits the manufacture (including import) and processing of TCE as an intermediate for the manufacturing of hydrofluorocarbon134a (HFC–134a) following an 8.5-year phaseout;
- Prohibits the industrial and commercial use of TCE as a solvent for closed-loop batch vapor degreasing for rayon fabric scouring for end use in rocket booster nozzle production by federal agencies and their contractors following a 10-year phaseout;
- Prohibits the industrial and commercial use of TCE following a 10-year exemption for potting, bonding, and sealing compounds for Department of Defense (DoD) naval vessels and their systems;
- Prohibits the manufacture (including import), processing, distribution in commerce, and use of TCE as a processing aid for battery separator manufacturing following a 10-year exemption;
- Prohibits the manufacture (including import), processing, distribution in commerce, and use of TCE as a laboratory chemical for essential laboratory activities and some research and development activities following a 50-year exemption;
- Prohibits the manufacture (including import), processing, distribution in commerce, and industrial and commercial use of TCE as a solvent in closed-loop vapor degreasing necessary for human-rated rocket engine cleaning by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its contractors following a seven-year exemption;
- Prohibits the emergency industrial and commercial use of TCE in furtherance of the NASA mission for specific conditions that are critical or essential and for which no technically and economically feasible safer alternative is available following a 10-year exemption;
- Requires strict workplace controls, including compliance with a TCE workplace chemical protection program (WCPP), which would include requirements for an inhalation exposure limit and dermal protection to limit exposure to TCE, for conditions of use with long-term phaseouts or time-limited exemptions;
- Prohibits, due to worker risks, the disposal of TCE to industrial pretreatment, industrial treatment, or publicly owned treatment works, with a 50-year exemption for cleanup projects; and
- Establishes recordkeeping and downstream notification requirements.
Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until December 15, 2023, and can be made on the Federal eRulemaking platform under Docket #: EPA-HQ-OPPT-2020-0642.