EPA Takes Important Step in Assessing Chemical Risk

Jim Jones Jim Jones

Earlier today, EPA made public a final risk assessment on a number of uses of the chemical, Trichloroethylene, or TCE, as it is more commonly known. The risk assessment indicated health risks from TCE to consumers using spray aerosol degreasers and spray fixatives used for artwork. It can pose harm to workers when TCE is used as a degreaser in small commercial shops and as a stain remover in dry cleaners. It has been more than 28 years since we last issued a final risk assessment for an existing chemical.

EPA conducted the TCE risk assessment as part of a broader effort to begin assessing chemicals and chemical uses that may pose a concern to human health and the environment under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA is this country’s 38-year old chemicals management legislation, which is badly in need of modernization

TSCA clearly needs improvement, especially in the provisions dealing with existing chemicals, like TCE. The lack of deadlines, the ability to require needed data and burdensome regulatory standard have made it difficult for EPA to ensure the American public that the chemicals used in the products they and their families use are safe. The American public shouldn’t have to wait 28 years between TSCA chemical risk assessments. TCE is a good first candidate, because unlike most chemicals, EPA has a significant amount of data on the substance.

EPA and a wide range of stakeholders are currently engaged with Congress on possible updates to the law, but EPA is not waiting. We are using what authorities we do have — however challenging — to assess chemical uses that may pose a concern. If we determine that there is a risk, we will consider a range of activities to address those concerns, including both voluntary and regulatory actions.

The concerns with TCE are widely recognized and have generally been associated with waste, water contamination, and environmental clean-ups. Our TSCA risk assessment focuses more narrowly on the relatively few consumer uses of TCE, many with alternatives, which makes the analytical requirements of TSCA more easily addressed.

As the old adage goes, you have to walk before you can run. TCE is the starting line for a number of chemicals that EPA is assessing under TSCA, with additional final risk assessments due out later this summer and fall. Although the first assessments will be for chemicals with relatively narrow consumer uses, our second group of chemicals will include chemicals that are widely used in flame retardants in consumer products.

Our TSCA risk assessment effort addresses important chemical uses, but without changes to TSCA, it will be difficult for EPA to ensure the American public that the chemicals found in the products they use are safe. So, while the pace will still be too slow, the risk assessment released today represents the initial step in the process.

To learn more about the TCE Risk Assessment, link to http://www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/riskassess.html .

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