April 30, 2020

Draft Risk Evaluation Finds Dry-Cleaning Chemical Poses "Unreasonable Risk" to Workers

A new draft risk evaluation published by EPA this week identifies “unreasonable risk” to workers, consumers, bystanders, and the environment associated with certain uses of perchloroethylene, a chemical used in dry cleaning. According to the agency, the primary health risk for workers is neurological effects from short- and long-term exposure to perchloroethylene. Consumers’ risk is associated with skin exposure to items cleaned with the chemical, and EPA also found environmental risks to aquatic organisms. The agency evaluated 68 uses of perchloroethylene, including in the production of fluorinated compounds and as a solvent in dry cleaning and vapor degreasing.

Perchloroethylene is also known as tetrachloroethylene, PCE, and PERC. 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, “use of perchloroethylene in dry cleaning has decreased over time as companies shift to alternative chemicals and new technologies.”

The agency will accept comments on its draft risk evaluation for 60 days following the publication of the relevant notice in the Federal Register. The Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals—a federal advisory committee charged with providing scientific advice, information, and recommendations to EPA on chemicals regulated under Toxic Substances Control Act legislation—will also review the draft risk evaluation during a virtual public meeting that will be held May 26–29, 2020. EPA urges individuals to submit comments on the draft risk evaluation by May 20 to allow the committee time to review them prior to the meeting. Comments submitted after May 20 during the 60-day public comment period will still be considered. More information about the public comment period will available in docket EPA-HQ-OPPT-2019-0502, which will soon be published on Regulations.gov.

EPA’s new draft risk evaluation of perchloroethylene is the tenth that EPA has published under the amended TSCA legislation. As amended by the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, TSCA requires EPA to complete risk evaluations for 10 chemicals, including perchloroethylene, within three to three-and-a-half years.

More information on EPA’s risk evaluation for perchloroethylene, including a PDF copy of the draft document, is available on the agency’s website.