EPA Proposes Ban on Perchloroethylene

Using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA has released a proposed rule to ban the use of perchloroethylene (“PCE”) for most commercial and industrial uses. (PCE is also referred to as perc and tetrachloroethylene.) PCE is used in a number of applications and industries, including petroleum manufacturing, aerosol degreasing, and dry cleaning.

The proposed rule follows the Agency’s assessment of the risk to human health presented by the substance. EPA conducted a risk evaluation of the substance under TSCA section 6(b). That assessment determined that PCE, as a whole chemical substance, presents an unreasonable risk of injury to human health as PCE exposure causes a variety of adverse health effects. PCE is a known carcinogen; it also causes neurotoxicity, including impaired visual and cognitive function. Various other health effects were noted by the risk evaluation, including central nervous system depression, kidney and liver effects, immune system toxicity, and developmental toxicity.

Under TSCA section 6(a), EPA is required to address, by rule, any unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment found during a TSCA risk evaluation. Section 6(a) also requires the Agency to identify actions necessary to ensure the chemical does not continue presenting an unreasonable risk by either a) implementing “a requirement [either] prohibiting or otherwise restricting the manufacturing, processing, or distribution in commerce of such substance or mixture,” or b) “limiting the amount of such substance or mixture which may be manufactured, processed, or distributed in commerce.” To meet these requirements, EPA is proposing to prohibit the manufacture, import, processing, and distribution of PCE for a number of commercial and consumer uses, such as in dry cleaning, spot-cleaning operations and degreasing. The prohibition allows a 10-year phaseout period.

The Agency will still permit limited use of PCE for some uses, particularly those which help its efforts in addressing climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons (an initiative happening under the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020). PCE will also be used in uses that are important for national security applications or to meet other critical national needs. In these cases, EPA would require the implementation of a PCE workplace chemical protection program. The chemical protection program would include requirements to meet an inhalation exposure concentration limit and prevent direct dermal contact. The Agency has also put forward prescriptive requirements for laboratory use, recordkeeping, and downstream notification.

EPA will permit certain time-limited exemptions from the ban for certain critical or essential emergency uses of PCE when no alternative is technically or economically feasible safer alternative is available.