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EPA Proposes Ban on Cancer-Causing Chemical Trichloroethylene Found in Consumer Products

by Anna

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a ban on the cancer-causing chemical trichloroethylene (TCE), which can be found in various consumer products, including automobile brake cleaners, furniture care products, and arts and crafts spray coatings. TCE is a hazardous substance known to cause serious health issues, such as kidney cancer, neurological harm, and sudden death when exposure occurs at high levels. Even lower, prolonged exposure can lead to other health problems.

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The EPA’s recent risk-evaluation studies have revealed that up to 250 million pounds of TCE are still produced in the United States annually. Massachusetts has been one of the earliest areas where concerns about TCE arose due to its link to contaminated drinking water in the city of Woburn. The contamination in Woburn eventually led to the designation of two massive Superfund sites. The announcement regarding the proposed ban took place at one of these sites, which now serves as a transportation center.

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Michal Freedhoff, the EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, stated, “For far too long, TCE has left a toxic legacy in communities across America. Today, EPA is taking a major step to protect people from exposure to this cancer-causing chemical.”

Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey, who has been leading the effort to ban TCE, welcomed the proposed rule, emphasizing its significance in eliminating a deadly chemical from manufacturing, processing, and distribution. Markey noted the personal connection he shares with Anne Anderson, a resident-turned-activist who lost her son Jimmy in 1981 to leukemia, making their decades-long fight to clean up Woburn and seek justice for affected families a pivotal moment in their advocacy.

Environmental groups have applauded the EPA’s proposed rule, which is set to take effect in one year. The American Chemistry Council, on the other hand, expressed concerns over the proposed ban’s potential impact on valuable industrial uses of TCE.

TCE is widely used in various applications, including making refrigerants, solvents, carpet cleaners, laundry spot removers, and hoof polish for horses. The EPA has determined that TCE poses an “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment” in 52 of the 54 identified uses in industrial and consumer products.

The proposed ban on TCE is a result of the expansion of the EPA’s regulatory powers under the 2016 Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, a landmark law designed to overhaul the regulation of toxic chemicals in everyday products. This law aimed to address the risks associated with tens of thousands of toxic chemicals, such as TCE and asbestos, which had been known to cause cancer for decades but were largely unregulated under federal law.

The EPA has also proposed banning other hazardous chemicals, including asbestos, methylene chloride, perchloroethylene, and carbon tetrachloride, as part of its efforts to ensure the safety of consumers and the environment.

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