The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Woburn, Massachusetts has suggested prohibiting the use of trichloroethylene, a known carcinogen. This chemical is commonly used in various household items such as brake cleaners, furniture care products, and spray coatings for arts and crafts.
The decision marks the resolution of a 40-year-long dispute over the prohibition of TCE, a chemical that can result in immediate fatality or kidney cancer when an individual is exposed to excessive amounts. Additionally, it can also lead to neurological damage through prolonged exposure at lower levels.
Recent risk assessments conducted by the EPA discovered that the production of TCE in the United States still totals up to 250 million pounds per year. The state of Massachusetts was one of the first areas to raise concerns about this chemical, as it was found to contaminate the drinking water in Woburn. This led to two locations in Woburn being designated as Superfund sites. A news conference was held on Monday at one of these sites, which currently functions as a transportation center.
Michal Freedhoff, the assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention at the EPA, stated that TCE has had a harmful impact on communities throughout the United States for an extended period of time. The EPA is now taking significant action to safeguard individuals from being exposed to this chemical, which is known to cause cancer.
Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, who has been at the forefront of the campaign to prohibit TCE, expressed satisfaction with the decision.
“According to Markey, this policy envisions a future where we will cease the production, processing, and distribution of a harmful chemical. This will prevent further harm to American families, communities, and workers from the damaging effects of this chemical, which has been linked to health issues, cancer, and disaster.”
Markey described the endeavor as something close to his heart, referencing his extensive collaboration with Anne Anderson, a former resident who became an activist after her son Jimmy passed away from leukemia in 1981.
“Ever since Anne and I first crossed paths in 1980, we have been united in our efforts to improve conditions in Woburn, seek justice for her son, and prevent other families from experiencing the illness caused by contamination. Thanks to Anne Anderson’s powerful advocacy and the EPA’s swift action, the days of corporations using places like Woburn as a dumping site for harmful TCE are finally behind us.” In 1982, a legal case was filed by eight families in Woburn, including the Andersons, due to the contamination of their water supply. This high-profile case gained national attention and inspired the book and film “A Civil Action.”
The American Chemistry Council released a statement stating that TCE serves multiple significant purposes in packaging and product formulation. The proposed regulation goes against scientific evidence, according to the council, and they urge the EPA to not impose unnecessary limitations on the chemical’s industrial uses.
The industry group stated that the EPA should use the most reliable scientific information when making risk management plans, which includes precise evaluations of exposure. They also emphasized the importance of accurately reflecting any decrease in the use of chemicals over time in the EPA’s risk assessment, as this ultimately reduces potential exposure.
Environmental organizations, in the meantime, lauded the suggested regulation that would go into effect after one year.
According to Earthjustice Senior Attorney Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, the EPA based their decisions on scientific evidence and input from affected communities, resulting in one of the most stringent chemical regulations in recent times. Kalmuss-Katz also stated that certain chemicals are too dangerous to continue being sold on the market.
The EPA has determined that TCE, a chemical commonly used in refrigerants and solvents for removing grease from metal parts, poses a significant risk to both human health and the environment in 52 out of 54 applications in industrial and consumer products. Additionally, it is found in carpet cleaners, laundry spot removers, and hoof polish for horses.
Anderson expressed gratitude for everyone’s presence in recognizing the positive transformation from past hardships. They acknowledged owing a debt of gratitude to those who continue to fight for safety and the eradication of harmful substances such as TCE.
The suggested prohibition arises from a significant increase in the EPA’s authority to regulate under a significant law passed in 2016. This law revamped regulations for numerous harmful chemicals found in common items, such as cleaning products, clothing, and furniture.
The law, named the Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, granted permission for the implementation of fresh regulations pertaining to numerous hazardous chemicals commonly used in daily products. These substances, such as asbestos and TCE, have long been recognized as cancer-causing agents but have not been closely monitored under federal legislation. The aim of the law was to streamline and modernize the haphazard state regulations on chemicals and to revise the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.
In 2016, a law mandated the EPA to assess chemicals and implement safeguards against unacceptable hazards. The agency took action to prohibit asbestos in the previous year and has also suggested prohibiting methylene chloride, perchloroethylene, and carbon tetrachloride.
This report was contributed to by Matthew Daly, a writer for the Associated Press, in Washington.