EPA Releases Draft Risk Evaluation for TCE, Announces SACC Peer Review Meeting
On February 21, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the draft risk evaluation of trichloroethylene (TCE), “a chemical used as a solvent and an intermediate for refrigerant manufacture in industrial and commercial processes, and with limited consumers uses like as a spot cleaner in dry cleaning facilities.” The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC) will meet on March 24-26, 2020, to peer review the draft risk evaluation of TCE’s conditions of use. EPA asks that comments on the draft risk evaluation be submitted by March 18, 2020, to allow SACC time to review and consider them before the peer review meeting. EPA states that comments received after March 18, 2020, and prior to the end of the oral public comment period during the meeting will still be provided to SACC for their consideration. EPA will hold a preparatory virtual meeting on March 3, 2020, for SACC and the public to comment on the clarity and scope of the draft charge questions for the March 24-26, 2020, meeting. EPA will publish a notice in the Federal Register announcing the availability of the draft risk evaluation and beginning a 60-day comment period.
Draft Risk Evaluation Findings
In the February 2020 draft risk evaluation, EPA reviewed a suite of potential TCE exposures and made the following initial determinations on risk:
EPA did not find risk to the environment. For all the conditions of use included in the draft risk evaluation, EPA states that it has preliminarily found no unreasonable risks to the environment under any of the conditions of use.
EPA’s draft risk evaluation preliminarily found unreasonable risk associated with dermal and inhalation exposure for workers, occupational non-users, consumers, and bystanders. EPA states that it found that workers, occupational non-users, consumers, and bystanders could be adversely affected by TCE under all but one condition of use. EPA did not find consumer use of pepper spray to present an unreasonable risk.
EPA notes that these initial determinations are based on a draft risk evaluation of the reasonably available information and are not EPA’s final determinations on whether TCE presents unreasonable risks under the conditions of use. EPA will use feedback received from the public comment and peer review processes to inform the final risk determinations. EPA states that these preliminary determinations may change as its evaluation becomes more refined through the public comment and peer review processes. This draft risk evaluation and the initial risk determinations are not a final action.
Using Products Safely and Alternatives
For any chemical product, EPA states that it “strongly recommends that users carefully follow all instructions” on the product’s label and safety data sheets (SDS). According to EPA, workers using TCE products should continue to follow the label/SDSs and applicable workplace regulations and should properly use appropriate personal protective equipment, as needed. Additionally, SDSs developed by the manufacturer remind users to use the product only in well-ventilated areas.
EPA suggests that consumers wishing to avoid exposure ask retailers if products contain TCE and consider not using products that do contain TCE. EPA notes that consumers also can choose not to use products where they do not know the active ingredients.
According to EPA, “[t]here are many solvents on the market, some of which might be suitable replacements for TCE depending on the condition of use.” For vapor degreasing, alternatives to TCE with similar performance characteristics are available, including: using different solvents; switching to aqueous cleaners; adopting other mechanical cleaning techniques; or equipment substitution. EPA states that alternative formulations of aerosol degreasers that do not contain TCE are available and that there are also alternatives available to use as spot cleaners in dry cleaning. EPA notes that recent advances in both technology and garment care have resulted in alternatives to TCE and other dry cleaning solvents.
EPA did a god job of evaluating the risks of TCE. Perhaps unsurprisingly, EPA preliminarily determined that unreasonable risk is associated with dermal and inhalation exposure for workers, occupational non-users, consumers, and bystanders (excepting the consumer pepper spray use). Not all agree with EPA’s determination that TCE poses no unreasonable risk to the environment. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has already expressed its concern with this preliminary finding. EPA and the public can expect robust public comment on the preliminary risk evaluation and significant interest in the SACC review scheduled for March 24-26, 2020.