The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed banning the toxic chemical trichloroethylene (TCE) when used as a degreaser and spot removal agency in the dry cleaning industry. TCE is a non-flammable liquid chlorinated hydrocarbon used as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts and as a cleaner in many industries. It is a common environmental contaminant found at a majority of listed Superfund sites throughout the United States.
TCE exposure typically occurs via inhalation at the workplace or from consuming contaminated drinking water. Short-term effects to small doses can cause dizziness, headaches, and sleepiness while exposure over the long-term can cause scleroderma (a systemic autoimmune disease), neurotoxicological issues, and even cancer. Both the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have concluded that TCE is carcinogenic and, in particular, linked with kidney and liver cancer.
The EPA appears to be acting under increased authority to regulate certain chemicals after a revision to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) earlier this year. Before this overhaul, the agency did not have much power to regulate chemicals, with only a few hundred having been adequately tested for their impact on the public health. The bipartisan measure now permits the EPA to restrict chemicals already in commerce that pose health risks to humans and the environment. TCE was among the first 10 chemicals the EPA chose to evaluate under this expanded authority. It is currently evaluating other uses of the chemical to determine whether a more widespread ban is warranted.
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