Solvent Chemical Classified as ‘Known’ Carcinogen

A chemical widely used as an industrial solvent has been classified as a “known human carcinogen” in a federal report this week.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is primarily used to make hydrofluorocarbon chemicals including degreasing agents, as well as film cleaners, lubricants, sealants and pepper spray. Although it has been widely produced since the 1920s, TCE has been linked to a host of health problems for decades.

Now a federal Report on Carcinogens from the Department of Health and Human Services has further condemned the chemical, upgrading it from a “reasonably anticipated to be” to “known” human carcinogen.

The new classification echoes a conclusion by the Environmental Protection Agency leveled in 2011, which said the chemical is cancerous by all routes of exposure.

Earlier this year the EPA issued a final significant new use rule (SNUR) for TCE, saying that any company that manufactures, imports or processes TCE for use in a consumer product must notify the agency 90 days in advance. The SNUR exempts the use of TCE in several cases including cleaners and solvent degreasers because these ongoing uses cannot by subject to a SNUR.

According to the most recent EPA data from 2011, about 250 million pounds of TCE are produced in or imported into the U.S. every year. The companies that manufacture or import TCE include Dow Chemical, PPG Industries and GreenChem Industries.

New rules by the EPA concerning TCE are currently making their way through regulatory channels.

One rule would restrict, ban or address health risks associated with commercial vapor degreasing operations that use TCE. The other rule concerns health risks that arise from using TCE as a spotting agent in dry cleaning or in aerosol spray degreasers. Both rules are under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Along with the cancer-causing potential of TCE, the EPA is also looking to address other health risks including reproductive and developmental problems, and fetal cardiac defects.

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