Seyfarth Synopsis: In a significant proposal, EPA moves to ban the use of TCE in aerosol degreasing and spot cleaning at dry cleaning facilities, as part of a larger effort to ban TCE in other industrial uses.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to ban certain uses of Trichloroethylene (TCE) – one of the most commonly used solvents – because of alleged health risks from its use as an aerosol degreaser and for spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities. 91 Fed. Reg. 91592 (Dec. 16, 2016). The proposed rule was issued under the recently-amended Section 6(a) of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

This is a significant and controversial step. Not only is this EPA’s first use of Section 6(a) in 25 years, it is EPA’s first use of the “new” Section 6(a), which was revised in June 2016. In addition to the current proposed ban, EPA has indicated it intends to issue a proposal to ban TCE in vapor degreasing, and will publish one final rule banning TCE use in aerosol degreasing, spot cleaning at dry cleaning facilities, and vapor degreasing.

TCE is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that is both produced and imported into the United States, with use estimated to be around 250 million pounds per year. TCE is a clear, colorless liquid with a sweet odor and it evaporates quickly. TCE is used industrially as a solvent, a refrigerant, and in dry cleaning fluid. The majority of TCE is used (about 84 percent) in a closed system as an intermediate chemical for manufacturing refrigerant chemicals. Much of the remainder (about 15 percent) is used as a solvent for metals degreasing. Only a small percentage accounts for other uses, including use as a spotting agent in dry cleaning and in consumer products.

While the use of TCE in aerosol degreasing and spot dry cleaning constitute the least common use of the solvent in the United States, under this current proposal, EPA will prohibit the manufacture (including import), processing, and distribution in commerce of TCE for use these limited uses. However, EPA has indicated it is also developing a proposal to ban the use of TCE in other industries and in other operations with higher volume uses of the chemical (i.e., vapor degreasing). EPA’s final rule will includes the current proposed ban on aerosol use and spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities, as well as the upcoming proposed ban on vapor degreasing.

The proposed ban on aerosol and dry cleaning uses includes requirements that manufacturers, processors, and distributors of TCE notify retailers and others in their supply chains of the prohibitions on use in aerosol degreasing and spot dry cleaning, and it is presumed the ban on vapor degreasing will have similar notification requirements.

Comments will be received on the proposed rule, Docket No. EPA–HQ–OPPT–2016–0163, until February 14, 2017.