EPA has recently proposed rules under the agency’s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) authority aimed at banning the future use of trichloroethylene (TCE) in vapor degreasing operations, in aerosol degreasers and in spot cleaners for dry cleaning. If finalized, the rules would prohibit the manufacture, importation, distribution or commercial use of TCE for the above purposes. While TCE use in the U.S. has dropped significantly over the past thirty years, a number of commercial and industrial operations still utilize TCE as a degreasing agent. EPA proposed these two rules primarily to protect workers from adverse health effects noted in a June 2014 health assessment done under TSCA authority, although TCE also has a long history of causing sometimes significant contamination in soil and groundwater, and in the past decade or so TCE has frequently been linked to vapor intrusion problems within buildings sitting on or near property contaminated with TCE.
Congress amended the TSCA statute itself in June 2016 to broaden EPA’s authority over the review of chemicals used in the U.S. The changes to TSCA were noteworthy both because they enjoyed bipartisan support in a very partisan Congress and because environmental statutes have only rarely been amended over the past couple decades. As one of the first uses of its expanded TCSA authority, EPA announced in November 2016 that it would evaluate human health risks associated with ten chemicals – a list which included TCE. In addition to these two recently proposed rules, EPA will be evaluating all other TCE uses under that separate November 2016 announcement.
The proposed rules regarding TCE uses can be found at 81 Fed. Reg. 91592 (Dec. 16, 2016) and 82 Fed. Reg. 7432 (Jan. 19, 2017). On February 15, 2017, shortly after the change in administrations, EPA extended the comment periods for the proposed rules to March 16 and April 19, 2017, respectively. While many proposed rules issued toward the end of the Obama administration’s tenure have been targeted by the Trump administration for significant change or repeal, the fates of these TCE-related proposed rules and of other EPA actions under the expanded TSCA are unclear.