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What Is Trichloroethylene?

Blue-collar worker doing an inventory while working at a chemical plant.

What the EPA’s Proposed Ban Means for Your Small Business

In October 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a ban on trichloroethylene (TCE). As a result of this ban:1

  • Companies would be prohibited from manufacturing, processing, and distributing TCE;

  • Commercial and industrial uses would be phased out; and

  • Stringent worker protections would be enforced in industries where TCE is still used.

What Is TCE?

TCE is a colorless liquid commonly used in refrigerants, degreasers, dry cleaning materials, and some household cleaning products.

Prior to being banned for such purposes in 1977, medical professionals used TCE as an anesthetic and analgesic.2

Why Does the EPA Want to Ban TCE?

TCE remains in the air, water, and soil in locations where it is manufactured and used. It can be inhaled or passed through the skin.

Short–term contact with TCE can cause:3

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

  • Lightheadedness

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Fainting

  • Allergic reactions

  • With contact with the skin or eyes, irritation and burns

  • At high exposures, irregular heartbeat

  • At repeated exposure, depression, anxiety, or irritability

  • Damage to the kidneys and liver

Prolonged or repeated exposure to TCE is associated with kidney cancer, non–Hodgkin lymphoma, and liver cancer. There is no safe level of exposure to carcinogens. Health agencies recommend reducing all contact with TCE to the lowest possible level.

What Industrial Uses of TCE Would Be Banned?

Companies that manufacture TCE or use TCE to produce other chemicals will have to halt production.

Businesses that use TCE must find alternative solutions. Common industrial uses include:4

  • Vapor degreasing of metals;

  • Use as an extraction solvent for greases, oils, fats, waxes, and tars;

  • As a refrigerant;

  • As a spot remover in dry cleaning operations;

  • As a component of any of the following consumer products:

    • Typewriter correction fluids

    • Paint removers/strippers

    • Adhesives

    • Spot removers

    • Rug–cleaning fluids

A list of industries potentially affected by the ban is available at the U.S. National Archives.

As part of a comprehensive safety program, every company should have Safety Data Sheets outlining the hazardous chemicals used in operations. Review all chemical ingredient lists for trichloroethylene. Hazardous chemicals should be disposed of safely and in accordance with hazardous waste regulations.

What Industries Will Still Be Able to Use TCE for Now?

The EPA provides specific examples of the limited uses for TCE that will still be allowed, while the affected industries identify appropriate replacements. These examples include:1

  • Federal Agencies: critical uses

  • Car Manufacturers: creation of electric vehicle batteries

  • HVAC and Appliance Manufacturers: development of certain refrigerants

  • Superfund Cleanup: Cleanup and disposal of TCE waste at contaminated sites

These uses must be within strict worker protection guidelines.

Safety Precautions When Working with Hazardous Chemicals

All businesses should have a hazard communication program. This program should provide the training needed for all employees, including contractors, to know how to read and interpret container labels and Safety Data Sheets.

  • Keep a list of all chemicals related to your business, plus Safety Data Sheets and container labels for each.

  • Clearly label all chemicals containers with appropriate hazard warnings, in accordance with OSHA standards.

  • Store all chemicals in appropriate locations with climate control when needed.

  • Wear personal protective equipment to prevent damage from splashes, mists, vapors, and fumes.

  • Maintain respiratory equipment and use the correct particulate filters for your operations.

  • Post the evacuation route to safely exist the building in case of an emergency.

1 EPA Press Office (Oct. 23, 2023). Administration Proposes Ban on Trichloroethylene to Protect Public from Toxic Chemical Known to Cause Serious Health Risks. Environmental Protection Agency. epa.gov
2 “Trichloroethylene” (Dec. 8, 2022). National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Health. cancer.gov
3 “Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet: Thrichloroethylene” (2008). New Jersey Department of Health. nj.gov
4 “Trichloroethylene” (2000). Environmental Protection Agency. epa.gov

For more information, see “Trichloroethylene (TCE); Regulation Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)” (2023). A Proposed Rule by the Environmental Protection Agency. Federal Register: The Daily Journal of the United States Government. federalregister.gov

The information contained in this article should not be construed as professional advice, and is not intended to replace official sources. Other resources linked from these pages are maintained by independent providers; therefore, NJM cannot guarantee their accuracy.