EPA Proposes TCE Ban Due to Toxicity, Cancer Risks

Some limited uses will remain after the TCE ban is in effect, but will be phased out over time for more climate-friendly and safer chemicals.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is calling for a full ban on trichloroethylene (TCE), an industrial chemical commonly used during manufacturing processes, due to the risk of cancer and other serious health side effects.

TCE is widely used in metal degreasers, paint strippers, solvents, brake cleaners, tire repair sealants, furniture care and cleaning products. However, it is extremely toxic and poses serious health risks, including cancer, neurotoxicity, and reproductive toxicity, the EPA has determined.

In a proposed rule (PDF) announced on October 23, the environmental regulators indicated that all uses of TCE should be banned, since there are many safer alternatives that are available.

TCE Ban to Take Effect In One Year

Prior research linked the use of TCE to an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, a serious neurodegenerative condition. Other studies indicate exposure to TCE, which is often done via workplace exposure in manufacturing and through consumer products, increases a person’s risk of developing liver, kidney, and cervical cancer.

The World Health Organization named TCE a human carcinogen in 2012, but until now, the EPA declined to regulate the chemical.

The newly proposed rule is intended to help prevent cancer before it starts by helping consumers avoid exposure to harmful chemicals and is a part of President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot plan.

The regulation bans the manufacturing, processing, and distribution of TCE for all uses. The new rule would take effect in one year for consumer products and most commercial uses.

“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,” EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe said in a 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.”

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There are limited uses that fall outside of the ban, including Federal Agency uses, battery separators used to make electric vehicle batteries, and the manufacture of some refrigerants. The uses will be phased out while the industry works to transition to climate-friendly refrigerants.

The proposal allows for a longer transition period to allow for the phase-out, but calls for the application of strict worker protections in the limited remaining commercial and industrial uses.

Additionally, the proposal calls for essential lab use and proper disposal of TCE wastewater to continue for 50 years. Those uses are allowed to help support chemical cleanup at superfund sites and other areas contaminated by TCE. Those uses are also subject to worker protections.

The EPA will accept public comments on the proposed rule for 45 days following publication in the Federal Register via docket EPA-HQ-OPPT-2020-0642 at www.regulations.gov.


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