Over 200 People from Communities Impacted by Toxic Chemical Demand EPA Take Action

Residents urge EPA to ban high-risk uses of trichloroethylene (TCE) to safeguard public health

May 24, 2018
Keith Gaby, (202) 572-3336, kgaby@edf.org

Today, a letter signed by over 200 people from communities across the country dealing with contamination from trichloroethylene (TCE) – a known carcinogen – was submitted to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt. The letter urged him to finalize EPA’s proposed bans of high-risk uses of TCE. While EPA proposed to ban certain uses of the toxic chemical well over a year ago under the previous administration, the Trump Administration is now slow-walking these critical actions.

“EPA has more than established that these uses of TCE present unreasonable risk,” said Dr. Jennifer McPartland, Senior Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s critical that the agency finalize these proposed bans now to better protect the public and workers from harmful exposures to this deadly carcinogen.”

EPA proposed banning TCE’s use as a degreasing agent in consumer and commercial products and certain industrial operations, and as a spot cleaner in dry cleaning. The chemical is established as a known human carcinogen by numerous authoritative bodies – including the National Toxicology Program, EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. TCE also interferes with development, is toxic to the immune system and kidneys, and has been linked to neurological damage and birth defects – among other harmful health effects.  

“Administrator Pruitt needs to do the job the American people demand and deserve of him and move without further delay to ban these uses of TCE,” said Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney at EWG. “Just because the chemical industry may want to use TCE and other cancer-causing chemicals anyway they want, doesn’t mean they should. Protecting the public from toxic chemicals is a primary mission of EPA and Mr. Pruitt needs to take that responsibility seriously.”

In December 2016 and January 2017, using its authority under the newly strengthened Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA proposed two rules to ban the use of TCE in aerosol degreasers, spot cleaners, and vapor degreasing, and another rule to restrict high-risk uses of two other dangerous chemicals, methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone. These actions would represent a major step forward for public health, and signaled that the overhaul of TSCA with the passage of the Lautenberg Act a few months prior was beginning to work—EPA had not proposed a chemical ban under TSCA in nearly three decades.

Unfortunately, less than a year after these proposals, EPA indefinitely delayed taking action on these proposed rules, moving them from “active” to “long-term action” status and effectively putting them on the back burner. Not coincidentally, the chemical industry voiced strong opposition to the proposed bans despite the clear public health need and the millions of dollars that would be saved from reducing TCE-related cancer risks alone.

In May, there was one bright spot regarding one of these chemicals: After meeting with mothers whose sons died from using methylene chloride-based paint strippers, EPA agreed to move forward on that proposed chemical ban. While this is an encouraging sign, the agency has not yet publicly committed to a ban for all consumer and most commercial uses of the chemical as called for in the proposed rule.

EPA’s prior evaluations of these three chemicals that supported the proposed bans were limited only to specific uses of them. Under reformed TSCA, EPA is supposed to comprehensively evaluate all other uses of these three chemicals, as well as all uses of seven others. However, there are strong indications that EPA’s reviews of TCE and the other chemicals will drastically deviate from the law’s requirements, excluding many known exposures and hence failing to ensure protection of public and worker health and the environment. Additionally, any decision by EPA to defer action on the proposed bans of high-risk uses of TCE and instead reconsider them as part of their broader evaluations will postpone any meaningful action to address its known risks for many years.

“When someone from our county walks through the pediatric oncology unit of Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, it is not uncommon for them to see multiple families they recognize,” said Stacie Davidson and Kari Rhinehart of Johnson County, Indiana – where TCE and other toxic chemicals have been discovered at high levels in the groundwater. “Dozens of children in our community have been diagnosed with cancer – and we’ve spent years raising awareness about the water contamination that could have contributed to the illnesses. It’s long past time for EPA to better protect communities like ours across the country by taking action on TCE.” Davidson, Rhinehart, and over 150 others from Indiana signed the letter. 

“We didn’t know about the chemicals in our town’s drinking water when I grew up here with my family. In the years since, we have learned about the contamination and begun to understand the health impacts and human cost involved,” said Hope Grosse, a cancer survivor from Warminster, Pennsylvania where TCE and other toxic chemicals from naval and military sites have contaminated the community’s groundwater. “EPA should stop stalling on this dangerous chemical – we need to see action from the agency.” Grosse is one of twenty-four signers from Pennsylvania.

EPA’s deferral of the proposed bans of high-risk uses of TCE fits a larger pattern of EPA under this administration elevating the interests of industry over the agency’s mission to protect public health. With hundreds of concerned residents calling on EPA to act, Administrator Pruitt should immediately move to finalize the bans on high-risk uses of TCE.  

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