Though it was first synthesized in 1864, Trichloroethylene (TCE) made its true entrance as a substitute for petroleum distillates in the early 1920s, and quickly became a front-runner solvent for vapor degreasing in the 1930s.
Toxicity concerns diminished trichloroethylene’s popularity in the 1960s, but it has continued to see usage as a spot-cleaning agent in dry-cleaners, degreasing agent, and in refrigerant manufacturing.
In June, however, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized its latest risk assessment of trichloroethylene – and it would appear that concerns have ramped up significantly. In the risk assessment, the EPA identified, “health risks from TCE exposures to consumers using spray aerosol degreasers and spray fixatives” and “health risks to workers when TCE is used as a degreaser in small commercial shops as a stain removing agent in dry cleaning.” (EPA July 25, 2014)
As a result, the EPA has given companies that use TCE a stern ultimatum: voluntarily stop using TCE, or face regulation.
News agency Bloomberg quoted Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, director of the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) on the issue: “Voluntary efforts are frequently quicker and more cost-effective than regulations. But where we can’t do it through voluntary efforts, we will pursue regulations.”
The EPA will not be focusing on trichloroethylene used in refrigerant manufacturing, which accounts for 83.6 percent of the 250 million pounds of trichloroethylene made or imported into the United States each year, according to Tala Henry, director of OPPT’s Risk Assessment Division.
This threat of regulation will apply, however, to industries that use trichloroethylene as a commercial degreasing agent or increase the likelihood of consumer exposure through products that contain the chemical.