New survey reveals few industry leaders, many laggards on TCE phase-out
Washington, DC – As EPA signals its intent to indefinitely delay key rules to regulate toxic chemicals including the cleaning solvent trichloroethylene (TCE), Safer Chemicals Healthy Families today released a new report showing that while some industrial firms are phasing out use of this toxic chemical for vapor degreasing, the vast majority seem to be holding back to “wait and see” if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ever adopts its proposed ban on the use. This conclusion is based on a survey of 143 industrial facilities that reported air emissions of TCE within the United States.
Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Acting Director Liz Hitchcock said: “EPA proposed a ban on the commercial use of TCE for vapor degreasing nearly a year ago. Further delay in adopting this health-protective rule keeps workers at an increased risk for serious health impacts.”
Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Program Associate and author of the report Jennifer Dickman added: “Companies should speed up their transition to safer substitutes for this use of TCE. Industry must be proactive in protecting the health of their workers.”
In January 2017, EPA proposed to ban TCE for use in vapor degreasing, using its new authority under the revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), because worker exposure to the chemical poses an unreasonable risk to human health. This exposure threatens serious adverse health effects such as cancer and fetal heart defects.
EPA estimates that 45,000 to 107,000 workers, including 454 to 1,066 pregnant women, are exposed to TCE from vapor degreasing where they work or from nearby workplaces. Vapor degreasing is a process used in commercial settings to clean equipment or other items with a hot vapor of chemical solvent such as TCE.
To date, the EPA has failed to finalize this proposed TCE ban and the agency’s recent action indicates that it may be delayed even longer. Congress amended the Toxic Substances Control Act in 2016 to remove the roadblocks that had prevented EPA from restricting dangerous chemicals that threaten the health of American workers, consumers, and the environment. Congress required EPA to act swiftly on the uses of chemicals that EPA had already determined posed an unreasonable risk prior to the law’s passage, including TCE used for vapor degreasing.
Whether EPA adopts the pending TCE rule, as well as proposed rules to ban TCE for aerosol degreasing and spot cleaning and to restrict methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) for use in paint stripping, will be critical tests of whether the Trump Administration intends to take seriously the bipartisan consensus that chemicals that pose unreasonable risks should be phased out.