As part of EPA’s ongoing efforts to make progress on regulating chemical substances under Section 6 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (“TSCA”), EPA has proposed a rule that would, among other things, prohibit the commercial use of the solvent Trichloroethylene (“TCE”) in spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities.

In June, President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Act for the 21st Century, which attempts to address a number of acknowledged shortcomings of the implementation of TSCA. At the time, however, EPA had already preliminarily determined in accordance with Section 6 of TSCA that the use of TCE in spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities and aerosol degreasing presented an unreasonable risk of injury to health, and the agency indicated it would issue a proposed rule on those uses of TCE this year. In addition to prohibiting the commercial use of TCE in dry cleaning facilities, the proposed rule prohibits commercial use of TCE for aerosol degreasing; prohibits the manufacture, processing, and distribution in commerce of TCE for use in aerosol degreasing and for use in spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities; and requires manufacturers, processors, and distributors (except retailers) to provide downstream notification of these prohibitions throughout the supply chain and maintain additional records.

TCE is still used for spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities to remove oily-type stains, including fats, waxes, grease, cosmetics, and paints. Stained fabrics are typically “pre-spotted” with spot treatment products, which are often solvent-based such as those containing TCE, prior to being placed in dry cleaning machines. EPA estimates that there are between 32,000 and 52,000 dry cleaning facilities using TCE in spot cleaning, with an estimated 105,000 to 168,000 workers and occupational bystanders potentially exposed to the solvent.

EPA, however, believes that the costs to users of dry cleaning spot cleaning products are negligible as substitute products are currently available on the market and are similarly priced.

In the Federal Register notice, EPA indicated that it has also preliminarily determined that the use of TCE in vapor degreasing presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health, and that the agency ultimately plans to issue one Final Rule covering the use of TCE in spot cleaning, aerosol degreasing and vapor degreasing. Dry cleaning facilities would be prohibited from commercial use of TCE for spot cleaning effective 270 calendar days after the date of publication of this Final Rule. Accordingly, the prohibition is estimated to take effect in early 2018, assuming the Final Rule is published sometime in the middle of 2017.