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Regulatory Update

EPA Finds Trichloroethylene Presents Unreasonable Risk in Final Risk Evaluation

Faith Morse | April 5, 2023

Trichloroethylene TSCA Revision

On January 9, 2023, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) to reflect a new risk determination for trichloroethylene (TCE), indicating that TCE presents unreasonable health risks to workers, occupational non-users, consumers and bystanders. The EPA conducted a risk evaluation for TCE under its conditions of use (COUs) and determined that, as a “whole chemical substance”, TCE poses an unreasonable risk of injury to human health. This determination supersedes the previous use-specific no unreasonable risk determination previously issued by EPA.

Ten chemicals, including TCE, were selected to undergo a formal risk evaluation under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act), which amended TSCA in 2016 to evaluate and ensure public protection.

The Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act ensures improvements such as:

  • Mandatory requirement for the EPA to evaluate existing chemicals with clear and enforceable deadlines
  • Risk-based chemical assessments
  • Increased public transparency for chemical information
  • Consistent source of funding for EPA to carry out the responsibilities under the new law

What is Trichloroethylene?

TCE is a volatile organic compound used in a wide range of consumer and commercial products. TCE can be found in the air, water and soil at or around sites where TCE is produced or used. Historically, TCE has been used in the United States for industrial degreasing.

Products Containing TCE:

  • Dry Cleaning Spot Cleaners
  • Degreasers
  • Adhesives
  • Rubber Fillers
  • Lubricants

Risk Evaluation Process and Timeline

Considerations for Evaluation

52 of the 54 COUs evaluated for TCE supported the unreasonable risk determination of TCE as a “whole chemical substance.” When evaluating risk, EPA considered a whole chemical risk determination approach, which means EPA looked at all conditions of use at the same time, regardless of whether a specific use is regulated under other environmental statutes. The EPA’s determination of risk is based on high-end exposure estimates, which account for uncertainties related to a worker’s appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and assumes no PPE for occupational non-users.

Health effects resulting from TCE exposure can be severe and irreversible. Adverse effects noted by the EPA include:

  • Developmental toxicity
  • Reproductive toxicity
  • Liver toxicity
  • Kidney Toxicity
  • Immunotoxicity
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Cancer

Next Steps

The EPA will begin developing a risk management process to address and eliminate unreasonable risks presented by TCE, including:

  • Regulatory action to ensure TCE will no longer present an unreasonable risk
  • Focus risk management on the COUs that represent an unreasonable risks

Affected Workers and Occupational Non-user Sectors include manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade and professional and business services.

Risk Management

Given the evaluation that TCE poses an unreasonable health risk to workers and consumers, the EPA will likely propose regulations protective of the identified human health risks, such as worker protection requirements, or prohibiting some consumer uses.

There are several actions the EPA could take to address the unreasonable risk including prohibiting or limiting the manufacture, processing, distribution in the marketplace, commercial use or disposal of this chemical substance, and enacting worker protection requirements as applicable. Users should evaluate alternatives to TCE and monitor for developments on EPA risk management restrictions.


Although EPA has not taken action yet regarding its Unreasonable Risk Determination to workers, occupational non-users, consumers and bystanders, changes to worker protection requirements and limiting/prohibiting consumer use are eminent.

Faith Morse

Faith is an Environmental Intern working on TRC’s environmental risk team. She has experience with environmental fieldwork, laboratory research and risk evaluations. In college, she conducted research focusing on the use of biochar as an emerging remedial technology for contaminated marine environments. As a recent graduate from Western Washington University, she holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science with an emphasis in toxicology. Faith can be reached at

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