EPA Regulatory Alert: Ban on TCE

21 Nov


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Trichloroethylene (TCE) is an extremely toxic chemical used in cleaning and furniture care products, degreasers, brake cleaners, and tire repair sealants, amongst other uses. TCE is commonly found at Superfund sites as a contaminant in soil and groundwater. It is known to cause liver cancer, kidney cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as damage to the central nervous system, immune system, reproductive organs, and fetal health. Environmental and human health risks are present with even very small concentrations of TCE.

Proposed Rule

On October 23, 2023, EPA issued a proposed rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to ban the manufacture, processing, distribution, and use of TCE to prevent soil and groundwater contamination and protect the public from the associated health risks. This proposal aligns with President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot approach to end cancer and advances the Administration’s commitment to environmental justice.

EPA’s proposed TCE ban would phase out the manufacturing, processing, distribution, and use of TCE over the course of one year. For uses where a longer transition timeframe is necessary (e.g., critical Federal Agency uses, battery separators, manufacture of certain refrigerants), EPA is proposing stringent worker protections to reduce exposure while phasing out TCE. 

How This Impacts You/What You Need to Do

It is important for facilities to have a good understanding of chemicals used onsite and to start taking action now to phase out any TCE, as the one-year phaseout period will be quick. Facilities should:

  1. Inventory Chemicals: Take an inventory of onsite chemicals to determine whether the facility manufactures, distributes, and/or uses any TCE. Consult safety data sheets (SDS) for ingredients. TCE can be referred to as trichlor, trike, or tri and may be sold under a variety of trade names. TCE is identified by its Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) Number: 79-01-6.
  2. Identify Alternatives: For most uses of TCE as a solvent, safer alternatives are already available. EPA’s Safer Choice Program provides a list of solvents (including degreasers) identified as “safer” alternatives. The University of Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) also has an extensive database of safer alternatives to TCE (and other toxic solvents and cleaners) used for degreasing purposes.
  3. Make the Transition: The best way to prevent TCE from entering the environment is to eliminate its use in facility operations (i.e., source reduction). Follow EPA’s Pollution Prevention (P2) approach to implement cleaning and degreasing modifications, such as switching to aqueous and less toxic cleaning solvents, adopting other mechanical cleaning techniques, or substituting equipment.
  4. Dispose Correctly: TCE waste can be characterized in a few ways depending on what it is and how it is used (or not used). TCE waste should be properly characterized and managed at a permitted disposal facility—most likely an incinerator.

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