EPA proposes partial ban on toxic dry cleaning chemical

By Ellie Borst | 06/08/2023 04:24 PM EDT

The proposed rule on the “high-priority” and cancer-causing chemical perchloroethylene would ban all commercial and some industrial uses.

A dry cleaning business.

A dry cleaning business. Sean Davis/Flickr

EPA proposed a ban on all consumer and many commercial uses of a cancer-causing chemical used widely for dry cleaning.

The proposed rule, announced Thursday, details a 10-year phase-out for perchloroethylene in all dry cleaning uses, as well as a prohibition on manufacturing, processing and distribution of PCE for all consumer uses in 24 months.

The rule would not extend to other uses of PCE, including industrial manufacturing or processing. EPA instead would enforce a “strict inhalation exposure limit” and increased protection measures for those uses. Data from industry indicates “many workplaces already have controls in place” that are sufficient, EPA said in a news release.


“We know that exposure to PCE is dangerous for people’s health, and today’s rule is an important first step to keeping communities and workers safe,” Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff said in a news release. “We’ve proposed to ban the uses we know can’t continue safely, and we’ve made sure that stringent controls are in place to protect workers for the uses that remain.”

PCE has been found to cause serious health problems such as neurotoxicity, kidney and liver effects, as well as cancer. It is a colorless liquid used as a solvent in aerosols, arts and crafts products, brake cleaners and polishers.

About 700 million pounds of PCE, also known as tetrachloroethylene, is produced each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, putting an estimated 500,000 workers at risk. Less than 20 percent of the annual production volume of PCE would be subject to the proposed prohibitions, according to EPA.

The proposed rule comes more than six months after the Biden administration finalized its risk determination that found PCE “presents an unreasonable risk of injury to human health when evaluated under its conditions of use.”

The Biden administration’s December 2022 assessment determined 60 of 61 uses presented an unreasonable risk. The proposed rule would prohibit 43 uses and 17 uses, including recycling and disposal, would be subject to more stringent protections.

PCE is now the third of 10 high-priority substances to receive a draft rule based on a risk evaluation conducted under the 2016 amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act, which required EPA to conduct chemical risk assessments and ban or restrict a substance it deems dangerous.

The PCE proposed rule aligns less with the proposed full ban on asbestos and more closely aligns to the agency’s April rule on methylene chloride, which some complete-ban advocates say leaves loopholes that do not fully protect workers from all possible exposure routes.

Comments from the public will be accepted for 60 days after the proposed rule is published.