June 15, 2023

EPA Proposes to Ban Most Uses of Perchloroethylene

On June 8, EPA announced a proposed rule that would ban most uses of the solvent perchloroethylene (PCE) and establish a workplace chemical protection program for the uses that are allowed to continue. PCE, also known as tetrachloroethylene and perc, is widely used in applications such as dry cleaning, aerosol degreasing, petroleum manufacturing, and fluorinated compound production. According to EPA, adverse health effects associated with PCE include neurotoxicity effects from acute and chronic inhalation exposures and dermal exposures as well as cancer from chronic inhalation exposures to the chemical. Central nervous system depression, kidney and liver effects, immune system toxicity, and developmental toxicity are among other adverse health effects related to PCE exposure.

EPA’s proposal would prohibit the manufacture, processing, and distribution of PCE for all consumer uses as well as prohibit most industrial and commercial uses of the chemical. Manufacturers, importers, processors, and distributors would be required to notify companies that receive PCE shipments about these prohibitions and to keep records. Most uses of PCE would be phased out in two years, but the agency is proposing a 10-year phaseout for PCE’s uses in dry cleaning to allow small businesses time to transition away from the chemical.

Uses of PCE related to national security, aviation, and other critical infrastructure are among those that would be allowed to continue. EPA’s proposal would also allow the continued processing of PCE to produce “climate-friendly refrigerants” and other chemicals that have roles in the agency’s efforts related climate change. These and the other allowed uses of PCE would be subject to EPA’s proposed workplace chemical protection program, which the pre-publication copy of the rule (PDF) says would include requirements to meet an inhalation exposure concentration limit and prevent direct dermal contact. The exposure limit for PCE described in the proposed rule is an existing chemical exposure limit, or ECEL, of 0.14 ppm (0.98 mg/m3) for inhalation exposures as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). According to EPA, this limit “represents the concentration at which an adult human, including a member of a [potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulation], would be unlikely to suffer adverse effects if exposed for a working lifetime.” EPA’s ECEL for PCE is significantly lower than the OSHA permissible exposure limit for the chemical, which is 100 ppm as an 8-hour TWA.

“EPA has received data from industry that indicate many workplaces already have controls in place that may reduce exposures sufficient to meet the inhalation exposure limit in the proposed rule or to prevent direct skin contact with PCE,” the agency’s press release states.

EPA’s proposal is the third to be issued through a new process that calls for the agency to evaluate and address the safety of existing chemicals regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act, as amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in 2016. The agency previously proposed actions to ban chrysotile asbestos in April 2022. In April 2023, EPA announced a proposed rule to ban most uses of methylene chloride, a chemical used as a solvent in vapor degreasing and metal cleaning.

EPA plans to host a webinar on this topic for employers and workers in the coming weeks. The agency will also open a 60-day public comment period on the proposed rule for PCE following its publication in the Federal Register.

For more information, see EPA’s webpage on risk management for PCE.