October 26, 2023

EPA Proposes to Ban All Uses of the Solvent Trichloroethylene

EPA announced on Monday a proposed rule that would ban most uses of the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) within one year and establish a workplace chemical protection program for limited uses to be phased out over a longer period of time. TCE is a volatile organic compound used mostly in industrial and commercial applications such as vapor degreasing, the manufacture of certain refrigerants, and the production of battery separators. The solvent is also used by consumers in cleaning and furniture care products, spray coatings for arts and crafts, and automotive care products like brake cleaners and tire repair sealants. According to EPA, TCE causes liver cancer, kidney cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Damage to the central nervous system, liver, kidneys, immune system, and reproductive organs are among other adverse health effects related to TCE exposure.

EPA’s proposal was 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. It would prohibit the manufacture, processing, and distribution of TCE for most uses within one year. “For the majority of uses of TCE as a solvent, including consumer products, safer alternatives to TCE are readily available,” the agency’s press release explains.

EPA is proposing longer phaseouts or time-limited exemptions for some uses of TCE to allow sufficient time for manufacturers and others to transition away from the chemical. For example, there are currently no alternatives to TCE in the production of battery separators, which are used in electric vehicles and other transportation, security, and defense systems. A proposed 10-year exemption from the TCE ban is intended to allow the industry to investigate and adopt alternative solvents.

Uses of TCE with longer transition periods 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 reduce inhalation and dermal exposures to TCE. As part of the program, EPA proposes an existing chemical exposure limit, or ECEL, for TCE of 0.0040 ppm (0.021 mg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). According to EPA, this limit “would address the unreasonable risk of injury to health from TCE that is driven by inhalation exposures in an occupational setting.” EPA’s ECEL for TCE is significantly lower than the OSHA permissible exposure limit for the chemical, which is 100 ppm as an 8-hour TWA.

EPA will open a 45-day public comment period on the proposed rule for TCE following its publication in the Federal Register.

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