Monday, February 13, 2012

Tougher standards lie ahead for dry cleaning fluid PERC

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) likely will be tightening standards for a solvent widely used in the dry cleaning industry following the release Friday of a final agency assessment that characterizes PERC as a “likely human carcinogen.” 

The assessment provides estimates for both cancer and non-cancer effects associated with exposure to Perchloroethlene (PERC) over a lifetime.

While the EPA said it does not believe that wearing clothes dry cleaned with PERC will result in exposures which pose a risk of concern, the agency already is requiring that use of the solvent be phased-out dry cleaners in residential buildings by December 21, 2020. 

The solvent is used by about 85% of U.S. dry cleaners. It also is used as a metal degreaser and in the production of many other chemicals.

Areas where the assessment could lead to tighter regulation include:

  • Establishing cleanup levels at the hundreds of Superfund sites where PERC is a contaminant
  • Revising EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level for perc as part of the carcinogenic volatile organic compounds group in drinking water, as described in the agency’s drinking water strategy 
  • Evaluating whether to propose additional limits on the emissions of PERC into the atmosphere, since PERC is considered a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act

National Academy of Sciences backs EPA findings 

In 2008, the EPA suggested that PERC be classified as a "likely human carcinogen." Moreover, it found that PERC's most dangerous noncancer toxicity is brain and nervous system damage -- and set safe exposure levels well below levels that cause such damage.

But rather than finalize the ruling, which was criticized by chemical industry manufacturers, the EPA asked the respected National Academy of Sciences to review it's PERC risk analysis and to tell the EPA if it's system for analyzing chemical risk was correct.

Now the expert panel appointed by the National Academy of Sciences says the EPA was basically correct. The panel agreed that:

  • PERC is a "likely human carcinogen." This means that while there's no definitive proof that the chemical causes cancer in humans, there's strong evidence it does -- and there's proof that the chemical causes various cancers in animals.
  • PERC's most dangerous non-cancer effect is nerve and brain damage. Safe exposure levels for drinking water and air quality should be set well above levels that can cause such damage.
  • The EPA's system for evaluating chemical risk is basically sound, although procedures for evaluating the strength of relevant studies need to be strengthened.

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EPA Releases Final Health Assessment for Tetrachloroethylene

National Academy of Sciences Panel Agrees With EPA Analysis of the Risks of PERC

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