Are your solvents targeted for more regulation?
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July 01, 2015
Are your solvents targeted for more regulation?
By Timothy P Fagan, Senior Legal Editor - EHS

Is your facility or operation among those using trichloroethylene (TCE), methylene chloride, or n-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP)?  If so, you need to be aware that the EPA is considering regulatory options under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for certain uses of these solvents.

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Why more regulations?

Under 15 U.S. Code 2605, the EPA has the authority to prohibit or limit the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, use, or disposal of a chemical or mixture if there is a reasonable basis to conclude that the chemical or mixture ”presents or will present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.”

Under this provision, the EPA identified a subset of chemicals, which now stands at 90, as high priority for risk assessment.  Within the last year, the risk assessments for TCE, methylene chloride, and NMP were finalized, meaning they underwent peer review and public comment. 

TCE

The vast majority of the 255 million pounds of TCE used annually in the United States is used in the manufacturing of refrigeration chemicals.  However, the EPA did not assess risks associated with this use because it is conducted in enclosed systems where exposure is expected to be low.  Instead, the EPA focused on the use of TCE as a solvent for:

  • Commercial use in open top vapor degreasing at commercial shops;
  • Consumer and commercial use in spray degreasers;
  • Commercial use as a spotting agent in dry cleaning; and
  • Consumer use in spray fixatives used in craft projects.

The degreasing uses commonly occur in:

  • Metal plating shops;
  • Electronics assembly shops;
  • Fabrication shops using metal, glass, or plastic components; and
  • Repair shop working on automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles, or electronics.

EPA’s final risk assessment determined that the aforementioned uses of TCE pose unreasonable cancer and noncancer risks to workers due to long-term inhalation exposure, as well as unreasonable noncancer risks from short-term inhalation exposure.

Methylene Chloride and NMP

The EPA risk assessment focused on the use of methylene chloride and NMP as a paint remover in a variety of activities, such as:

  • Bathtub refinishing;
  • Automotive refinishing;
  • Art restoration and conservation;
  • Aircraft paint stripping;
  • Ship paint stripping;
  • Graffiti removal; and
  • Home refinishing of wood structures and flooring.

The final risk assessment concluded that such uses of methylene chloride and NMP may cause dermal and inhalation exposure that results in unreasonable long-term risks, including cancer and liver toxicity, short-term noncancer risks, and developmental risks for women of child-bearing age.

What are the options EPA is considering?

The EPA must choose the least burdensome option that adequately protects against the “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.”  Options available to the EPA under TSCA for mitigating the risks associated with the identified uses of TCE, methylene chloride, and NMP include:

  • Prohibiting or limiting manufacture, processing, or distribution in commerce;
  • Prohibiting or limiting a particular use or use above a threshold concentration;
  • Requiring warnings and instructions;
  • Requiring monitoring, recordkeeping, and testing;
  • Prohibiting or regulating the manner or method of commercial use;
  • Prohibiting or regulating any manner or method of disposal; and
  • Directing manufacturers and/or processors to give notice of risk to distributors and users and replace or repurchase the substance or mixture.

Actions being considered by the EPA include transition to safer chemicals and greener processes or technologies, promotion of best practices, and phaseout of certain uses, with the implementation involving regulations and/or voluntary actions.

What can you do?

Get involved.  If you have any comments or concerns about these chemicals for the outlined uses, if you have any ideas about how to mitigate the risks, or what actions should or should not be taken, contact the EPA to provide your input on the rule making for TCE and/or, methylene chloride and NMP.

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