The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a proposal to ban all uses of trichloroethylene (TCE), a chemical used in household cleaning products and industrial degreasers that the agency says is “extremely toxic” and has been linked to serious health risks, including cancer.
EPA’s proposal, issued on Oct. 23, proposes to prohibit the manufacture, processing, and distribution of TCE for nearly all uses, with the ban slated to go into effect in one year.
“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,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe in a statement.
TCE is a colorless, nonflammable liquid that has a chloroform-like odor. Because it breaks down slowly, it may be found in the air, water, and soil in places where it is produced or used.
The chemical is a common contaminant of drinking water and groundwater, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The agency said in a note that, several years ago, TCE was found in 14.8 percent of samples collected from surface-water supplied public water systems and in 4.9 percent of groundwater-supplied systems.
“Prolonged or repeated exposure of trichloroethylene causes kidney cancer,” and some evidence suggests that it may be associated with an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and liver cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The proposed ban would provide a longer phase-out period for critical uses by federal agencies such as NASA and the Department of Defense, as well as in certain refrigerants and in battery separators used to make electric vehicle batteries.
Also, to support cleanup efforts at TCE contamination sites, EPA wants to allow the use of TCE for essential lab use and for proper TCE wastewater disposal for a period of 50 years.
TCE’s most important industrial use is in degreasing metal components in the automotive and metal industries.
Other potential exposures can occur in manufacturing processes involving disinfectants, dyes, and pharmaceuticals.
Workplace exposures to the chemical take place mainly through breathing vapors or direct contact with the liquid.
“Workers, particularly in the degreasing industry, are exposed by inhalation to the highest levels of TCE. Based on monitoring surveys, these workers might be exposed to levels ranging from approximately 1 ppm to 100 ppm,” the CDC said.
Household uses of the chemical include cleaning wipes, spray adhesives, carpet cleaners, and spot removers.
TCE has been found in ambient air, drinking water, and contaminated foods.
Because of its widespread presence from past and current uses, the CDC says that “numerous people” living in the United States have been exposed. Both natural and processed foods can contain TCE because of direct absorption from the environment or contamination of water used in food processing.
A five-year study from 1996–2000 conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found the chemical in 30 table-ready food items collected from supermarkets across America.
At one point, TCE was used as a surgical anesthetic and inhaled pain reliever, but the FDA banned such use in 1977.
Effects of Proposed Ban
The EPA’s latest proposal to ban most uses of the chemical seeks to limit its presence anywhere in the United States.
“For far too long, TCE has left a toxic legacy in communities across America,” said Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, in a statement.
“Today’s proposal to end these unsafe, unrestricted uses of TCE will prevent future contamination to land and drinking water and deliver the chemical safety protections this nation deserves,” he added.
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) praised the move to prohibit TCE, although a spokesperson said the group would take a closer look at the EPA’s proposal in more detail and offer suggestions to make the final version even stronger.
“TCE is so toxic and causes multiple harms at very low levels of exposure,” Maria Doa, senior director for chemicals policy at the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement.
“This is a major step forward for those in the agency, advocacy groups—including EDF—and families and communities around the nation that have fought to prohibit the use of a chemical that has harmed or cut short the lives of so many people,” she said. “TCE is a chemical that simply should not be used.”
From The Epoch Times