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December 15, 2020

EPA Releases Final Risk Evaluation for Perchloroethylene, Finds Almost All Conditions of Use Present Unreasonable Risks to Workers, ONUs, Consumers, and Bystanders

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

On December 14, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the final risk evaluation for perchloroethylene.  The final risk evaluation determined that there are unreasonable risks to workers, occupational non-users (ONU), consumers, and bystanders from 59 out of 61 conditions of uses:

  • Consumers and Bystanders:  EPA found unreasonable risks to consumers and bystanders from all consumer uses of perchloroethylene.  Common consumer uses include as a dry cleaning solvent; in cleaning and furniture care products; automotive care products like brake cleaners, lubricants, and greases; and adhesives in arts and crafts.  The risk to consumers from perchloroethylene’s use in dry cleaning is from short-term skin exposure to items cleaned with perchloroethylene; and
  • Workers and ONUs:  EPA found unreasonable risks to workers from all but two occupational uses of perchloroethylene.  Additionally, EPA found unreasonable risks from most commercial uses of perchloroethylene to workers nearby but not in direct contact with perchloroethylene (known as ONUs).  This includes an unreasonable risk to workers and ONUs when domestic manufacturing or importing perchloroethylene; processing as a reactant and intermediate; incorporation into cleaning and degreasing products; uses in a variety of industrial and commercial applications such as degreasing, dry cleaning, in adhesives and sealants, and in paints and coatings; and disposal.  The primary health risk identified in the final risk evaluation is neurological effects from short- and long-term exposure to perchloroethylene.  The conditions of use in the final risk evaluation that EPA determined do not present an unreasonable risk are distribution in commerce and industrial and commercial use in lubricants and greases for penetrating lubricants and cutting tool coolants.

EPA found no unreasonable risks to the environment.  The next step in the process required by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is developing a plan to address the unreasonable risks identified in the final risk evaluation.  EPA states that it “is moving immediately to risk management for this chemical and will work as quickly as possible to propose and finalize actions to protect against the unreasonable risks.”  Potential actions EPA could take to address these risks include regulating how perchloroethylene is used or limiting or prohibiting the manufacture, processing, distribution in the marketplace, use, or disposal of perchloroethylene, as applicable.  EPA notes that as with any chemical product, it “strongly recommends that users of products containing perchloroethylene continue to carefully follow all instructions on the product’s label and safety data sheet.”  More information will be available in a forthcoming memorandum that will be posted on our website.