The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently released its final health assessment for tetrachloroethylene – also known as perchloroethylene, or perc – a chemical solvent frequently used in the dry cleaning of fabrics. Tetrachloroethylene is also sometimes used to clean metal machinery and to manufacture certain chemicals and consumer products. The final assessment made by the EPA characterizes tetrachloroethylene as “a likely human carcinogen.”
Previous research on the chemical solvent has also found similar findings involving the risk it poses to human health. For instance, studies done on animals and human twins by Dr. Samuel Goldman and researchers at the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, California have found that exposure to tetrachloroethylene increases the risk of acquiring Parkinson’s Disease ninefold. In addition, it has been found that short term and long term inhalation exposure to the chemical can pose health risks associated with the kidney, liver, immune system and nervous system. Studies have also shown adverse reproductive effects such as spontaneous abortions from occupational exposure to the chemical. However, the EPA does not believe that wearing clothes that have been dry cleaned pose any serious risk of illness associated with the chemical solvent.
Nevertheless, the EPA plans to eradicate the use of tetrachloroethylene by dry cleaners in residential buildings starting December 21, 2020. Tetrachloroethylene can be emitted into the environment through different means throughout the dry cleaning process including cleaning and waste disposal. The EPA has also already issued clean air standards on dry cleaners that use tetrachloroethylene. In addition, prior to 1984, tetrachloroethylene was found in samples of groundwater with a median concentration of 0.75 ppb and a maxium level of 69 ppb which has prompted the EPA to set limits on the amount of tetrachloroethylene allowed in drinking water.
EPA’s new assessment is the first to include tetrachloroethylene’s carcinogenic affect on humans. With this additional information, more thought will be put into revising regulations on the amount of tetrachloroethylene being emitted into the air and drinking water. In addition, there are a hundred Superfund sites contaminated by tetrachloroethylene that need to be cleaned. The new assessment will help government officials evaluate the level of cleanup needed at the Superfund sites.
Photo credit: deq.idaho.gov/waste-mgmt-remediation/brownfields/success-stories/mr-a%27s-dry-cleaners-twin-falls.aspx