December 17, 2020

EPA Completes Risk Evaluation of Dry-Cleaning Solvent Perchloroethylene

EPA’s final risk evaluation for perchloroethylene identifies “unreasonable” risks to workers related to most of its occupational uses, including in industrial and commercial applications such as degreasing and dry cleaning, and in paints and coatings. According to the agency, the primary health risk for workers is neurological effects from short- and long-term exposure to perchloroethylene. EPA states that all consumer uses of the chemical—from its use in automotive care products to adhesives in arts and crafts—present unreasonable risks. Consumers’ risk from perchloroethylene’s use as a dry-cleaning solvent is associated with skin exposure to items cleaned with the chemical.

For its final risk evaluation, EPA reviewed 61 uses of perchloroethylene, including as a solvent for cleaning and degreasing, and in lubricants, adhesives, and sealants. The agency states that nearly 65 percent of the production volume of perchloroethylene is used as an intermediate in industrial gas manufacturing, producing fluorinated compounds. The second-largest use of the chemical is as a solvent in dry-cleaning facilities.

A final toxicological profile for perchloroethylene published earlier this year by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry explains that workers in the dry-cleaning industries and those who use metal-degreasing products may be exposed to elevated levels of the chemical. ATSDR states that breathing high levels of perchloroethylene for a brief period may cause health effects such as dizziness or drowsiness, headache, and incoordination, and higher levels of exposure may cause unconsciousness and death. Longer-term exposure to low levels of perchloroethylene may cause changes in mood, memory, attention, reaction time, and vision, the agency says. In addition, some studies in humans suggest that exposure to perchloroethylene might lead to an increased risk of bladder cancer, multiple myeloma, or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

EPA urges workers and others who use products containing perchloroethylene to follow label and safety data sheet instructions, adhere to applicable workplace regulations, and use appropriate personal protective equipment. According to the agency, the “use of perchloroethylene in dry cleaning is decreasing as companies shift to alternative chemicals and new technologies.”

Under Toxic Substances Control Act legislation, EPA has two years to finalize actions to address the unreasonable risks identified in its final risk evaluation of perchloroethylene. The agency’s press release states that “EPA is moving immediately to risk management for this chemical and will work as quickly as possible to propose and finalize actions to protect against the unreasonable risks.” EPA’s proposed actions could include regulation of how perchloroethylene is used. The agency may also limit or prohibit the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, use, or disposal of perchloroethylene.