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Environmental Management Assistance Program

EPA Proposes Ban on Perchloroethylene: Implications for Small Businesses

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced a significant action under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) with a proposed ban on perchloroethylene. The proposed ban on most uses of perchloroethylene (PCE), a chemical known to pose serious health risks, aims to protect individuals from neurotoxicity and cancer. While consumer uses of PCE would be banned, many industrial and commercial uses would continue under stringent workplace controls. In this post, we will explore the implications of this proposed ban for small businesses, particularly those in the dry cleaning industry.

Protecting Public Health:

The EPA’s proposal reflects the recognition of the dangers associated with PCE exposure. By banning consumer uses and implementing strict workplace controls, the EPA aims to minimize the health risks posed by this chemical. The proposed ban considers the health and safety of workers, occupational non-users, consumers, and communities near facilities utilizing PCE.

Impact on Small Businesses:

The proposed ban on PCE usage will have a significant impact on small businesses, particularly those operating in the dry cleaning industry. Dry cleaners, many of which are small businesses, have traditionally relied on PCE as a solvent in their operations. However, the 10-year phaseout period provided in the proposal allows these businesses some time to consider a transition to alternative processes.

Economic Analysis

EPA estimates that 6,000 dry cleaners still use PCE, a majority of which are small businesses. It is still unclear as to the impact of a prohibition of PCE for dry cleaning through a gradual phaseout. EPA has not been able to reliably estimate the number of dry cleaning facility closures that may be associated with this phaseout. However, after the results of an economic analysis, EPA expects some closures because EPA estimates that only about 60 PCE machines are expected to be in use at the end of the proposed phaseout period given the age of the machines and the declining trend of use.

EPA believes that almost no new PCE machines have been brought into service in recent years and therefore most existing dry cleaning machines using PCE are old and will no longer be in service by the proposed phaseout date. 

EPA requests comment on these estimated impacts to the dry cleaning industry, including regarding expected closures. In addition to dry cleaners, additional users of PCE (such as in vapor degreasing) could be strongly impacted because they may have no economical alternative to the use of PCE.

Transitioning to TSCA Compliant Practices:

Small businesses, including dry cleaners, may face economic challenges during the transition away from PCE. To mitigate these impacts, President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget request includes funding for pollution prevention grants. These grants aim to support small businesses in adopting TSCA compliant practices and facilitate the shift away from PCE usage. Dry cleaners can explore these grant opportunities to aid in their transition and ensure compliance with the proposed regulations.

Feasibility and Efficacy of Worker Protections:

The EPA encourages stakeholders to provide input on the proposed rule, especially regarding the feasibility and efficacy of the worker protection requirements. Small businesses and other entities affected by the proposed workplace chemical protection program can contribute their perspectives on the implementation process and the timeline for phasing out PCE usage in dry cleaning operations. The EPA will host a public webinar in the coming weeks, providing an opportunity for employers, workers, and interested parties to learn more about the proposed regulations and engage in discussions.

Providing Comments on the Proposal

EPA will accept public comments on the proposed rule for PCE for 60 days, or until August 15th, which can be done in the Federal Register via docket EPA-HQ-OPPT-2020-072.  Pennsylvania small businesses can also speak with a member of the EMAP team if so desired.
Jeremy Hancher is the EMAP Program Manager located at the Widener University SBDC.  He holds over 15 years of experience in environmental compliance, environmental policy, and program management.  He is proud to be the team lead of the award-winning EMAP program which provides free and confidential environmental assistance to the Pennsylvania small business community in fulfillment of the requirements of the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act and Section 507 of the federal Clean Air Act.
In 2015, Jeremy was part of the team effort when EMAP was recognized by US EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for Outstanding Accomplishments by a State Small Business Environmental Assistance Provider in Providing Technical Environmental Assistance to the Small Business Community. Jeremy holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and a certificate from the Wharton School.