EPA Finds TCE as a Whole Chemical Substance an Unreasonable Risk to Human Health

Earlier this year, EPA announced the final revision to the risk determination for trichloroethylene (TCE) risk evaluation issued under the Toxic Substances Control Act (“TSCA”). EPA found that TCE presents unreasonable risks to the health of workers, occupational non-users, consumers, and bystanders. The risks identified include adverse human health effects unrelated to cancer, such as neurotoxicity and liver effects, from acute and chronic inhalation and dermal exposures to TCE and risks for cancer from chronic inhalation and dermal exposures to TCE. The revised risk determination supersedes the conditions of use (“COU”) specific “no unreasonable risk” determinations that the EPA previously issued in its 2020 TCE risk evaluation.

TCE is a volatile organic compound (“VOC”) used mostly in industrial and commercial processes. Consumer uses include cleaning and furniture care products, arts and crafts, spray coatings, and automotive care products like brake cleaners. EPA determined that 52 of the 54 COUs evaluated drive the unreasonable risk determination.

EPA states that it used the whole chemical risk determination approach for TCE because there are benchmark exceedances for multiple COUs spanning across most aspects of TCE’s life cycle, from manufacturing (including import), processing, commercial use, consumer use, and disposal for health of workers occupational non-users (workers nearby but not in direct contact with this chemical), consumers, and bystanders. EPA holds that this approach is appropriate because the health effects associated with TCE exposures are “severe and potentially irreversible,” including developmental toxicity, reproductive toxicity, liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, and cancer. EPA notes that the revised risk determination for TCE does not reflect an assumption that workers always and appropriately wear personal protective equipment (PPE). EPA states that as it moves forward with a risk management rulemaking for TCE, it will “strive for consistency with existing OSHA requirements or best industry practices when those measures would address the identified unreasonable risk.

Additionally, EPA stated it is conducting a screening-level approach to assess potential risks from the air and water pathways for several of the first 10 risk evaluation chemicals, including TCE. The goal of the screening approach is to evaluate the surface water, drinking water, and ambient air pathways for TCE that were excluded from the 2020 risk evaluation and to determine if there are risks that were unaccounted for in that risk evaluation. EPA expects to describe its findings regarding the chemical-specific application of this screening-level approach in its proposed risk management rule for TCE.