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EPA Proposes Ban on TCE: How it May Affect Small Businesses

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In a significant move aimed at safeguarding public health and the environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a ban on the use of trichloroethylene (TCE), a chemical solvent with known serious health risks, under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). While this proposal has wide-reaching implications, it particularly resonates with the small business community, given the various industries that use TCE in their operations.

Where TCE is Often Used:

Small businesses may use TCE in cleaning and degreasing (including spot cleaning, vapor degreasing, cold cleaning, and aerosol degreasing) substances, and if they manufacture refrigerants or use refrigerants. TCE is also used in paint and coat manufacturing, plastics material manufacturing, wood window and door manufacturing, pharmaceutical preparation, and printing machinery. Additionally, TCE is also found in consumer products such as typewriter correction fluids, paint removers, paint strippers, adhesives, spot removers, cleaning fluids for rugs, and metal cleaners.

The proposed ban on trichloroethylene (TCE), while primarily aimed at protecting public health and the environment, will have several potential effects on small businesses.

Transition to Safer Alternatives:

Small businesses that currently use TCE in their products or processes will need to transition to safer alternatives. While this transition may involve some initial costs, it is likely to lead to long-term benefits, as safer alternatives are generally associated with lower health and environmental risks. Small businesses should consider exploring these alternatives and assess their feasibility in their operations.

Compliance Costs:

Small businesses will need to ensure compliance with the proposed rule, which may require changes in their manufacturing processes, product formulations, or supply chains. These adjustments may come with associated costs, including investing in new equipment or materials, revising safety protocols, and retraining employees.

Worker Protections:

The proposed rule includes stringent worker protections for limited remaining commercial and industrial uses of TCE. Small businesses will need to invest in safety measures to protect their employees from potential TCE exposure. This may involve additional training, personal protective equipment, and equipment upgrades.

Phased Transition for Some Uses:

The proposal acknowledges that for certain limited uses of TCE, there will be a longer transition period. Thus, small businesses may have more time to adapt to alternative chemicals or processes. However, they will still need to comply with the worker protections outlined in the proposal.

Reduced Legal and Financial Risks:

By proactively adopting the ban and transitioning to safer alternatives, small businesses can reduce the risk of legal and financial liabilities associated with TCE exposure. This can protect them from potential lawsuits, fines, and reputational damage.

Environmental and Health Benefits:

The proposed ban aims to reduce the adverse health effects and environmental contamination caused by TCE. Small businesses located in areas with historical TCE contamination can benefit from a cleaner and healthier environment, potentially improving the quality of life for their employees and the surrounding community.

Awareness of Health Risks:

The proposed ban raises awareness about the health risks associated with TCE, which can benefit small businesses by encouraging them to prioritize the safety of their employees and customers. Implementing safer practices can enhance the reputation of a business and improve relationships with stakeholders and the local community.

Public Comments and Engagement:

Small businesses have the opportunity to provide feedback during the public comment period, enabling them to express concerns or suggest adjustments to the proposed rule. This engagement can help shape the final regulations and ensure that the unique challenges faced by small businesses are considered.

Topics of interest to small businesses, in which EPA is requesting comments on as noted in the federal register notice, are the following:

  • EPA requests public comment on reasonable compliance timeframes for small businesses, specifically on whether and how to provide longer compliance timeframes for transitioning to alternatives for uses requiring reformulation and cleaning processes for cleaning parts for national defense or cleaning medical devices.
  • EPA requests public comment on differing compliance or reporting requirements or timetables that account for the resources available to small entities.
  • EPA requests public comment on the feasibility of use of alternatives to TCE and their availability for conditions of use that drive the unreasonable risk.
  • EPA requests public comment on how the rulemaking should consider TCE alternatives in light of ongoing regulatory scrutiny.
For those small businesses interested in voicing their opinions on this proposal, the EPA will accept public comments on or before November 30, 2023.
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.