Wednesday, September 3, 2014

TCE to be regulated by EPA, unless industries take action

TCE is often used in degreasing
operations and dry cleaning.
The Environmental Protection Agency will regulate uses of trichloroethylene that pose health risks to workers or consumers unless companies voluntarily stop using the solvent or find ways to reduce exposures, according to a senior agency official.

“Voluntary efforts are frequently quicker and more cost-effective than regulations,” Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, director of EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), said during a recent workshop. “But where we can't do it through voluntary efforts, we will pursue regulations.”

In the U.S., most trichloroethylene is used in refrigerant manufacturing, which poses minimal exposure risks and isn't an application the EPA is focusing on.

The EPA is concerned about worker exposure in commercial degreasing operations and dry cleaning, as well as consumer exposure through various products that contain TCE.

The EPA held a workshop July 29-30 to discuss alternatives to trichloroethylene use as a degreaser. Participants also discussed ways to reduce exposures if the solvent must be used. In future forums, the agency will address TCE alternatives for dry cleaners.

Companies make about 250 million pounds of trichloroethylene in the U.S. or import it into this country annually, said Tala Henry, director of OPPT's Risk Assessment Division. The vast majority, 83.6 percent (209 million pounds), is used to make refrigerants in well-controlled and contained workplace environments, Henry said.

The EPA estimates 14.7 percent (36.75 million pounds) of the remaining trichloroethylene is used as a commercial degreasing solvent, and 1.7 percent (4.25 million pounds) has consumer applications such as automotive degreasing products, home office toner aids, home mirror edge sealant and arts and crafts fixatives or cleaners, Henry said.

Risk assessment identified health concerns

OPPT organized the workshop as its initial response to its analysis of risks TCE poses when used in degreasing, dry cleaning and some arts and crafts applications.

Thousands of workers in small commercial degreasing shops and dry cleaning facilities face an increased risk of contracting cancer and giving birth to children with cardiac or other health problems, OPPT concluded.

Employees who don't work with TCE directly, but work near where it is used, also faced increased health risks, the assessment said.

The offspring of pregnant consumers who inhale brief high concentrations of TCE-containing arts and crafts sprays or other materials may also face risks, the assessment found, although many companies have stopped using TCE in consumer goods, according to information presented at the workshop.

Trichloroethylene is found at more than half of the nation's superfund sites, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which focuses on human health risks of hazardous waste sites.

TCE also is a volatile organic compound and hazardous air pollutant, said Margaret Sheppard, an environmental scientist with EPA's Office of Air and Radiation.

Alternatives for degreasers

Alternative ways of degreasing equipment include water-based cleaners that may contain small amounts of surfactants, rust inhibitors and other compounds; acetone; a coating that could be peeled off to remove contaminants; and frozen crystals of carbon dioxide called “snow.”

Source: Bloomberg News
This article has been edited for length.

Concerned about chemical exposure at the workplace? Electrocorp has designed industrial and commercial air cleaners with activated carbon and HEPA filters that can remove airborne chemicals such as TCE, benzene and toluene as well as particles, dust and other contaminants. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

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