Last month, to the satisfaction of personal injury attorneys nationwide, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA) at last issued its long-awaited final health assessment of the chemichal perchloroethylene, publishing the assessment to the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System database. The database, known as IRIS, is used by the agency and others to assess human health issues and evaluate risk information when environmental contamination and exposures occur.
Perchloroethylene is a chemical solvent. It is commonly used across the nation in dry cleaners. For some time, scientists have known that perchloroethylene is a likely human carcinogen. Now, the EPA has provided estimates for human exposure to perchloroethylene over the course of a lifetime, including the risk of cancer and non-cancer health effects.
Not included in the EPA’s assessment is any indication that wearing clothing treated with perchloroethylene in the dry cleaning process creates an exposure level which can cause health problems.
The EPA has already taken steps to address the perchloroethylene problem. For example, dry cleaners are already subject to EPA air standards, and dry cleaners located in residential buildings are required to phase out perchloroethylene use entirely by the end of 2020. Importantly, the EPA has already established permitted levels of perchloroethylene in drinking water, as well as levels for Superfund cleanup across the county – both of which will now be updated to reflect the new IRIS assessment.
Before posting the IRIS, the agency’s assessment underwent a rigorous scientific review, by the agency itself, other federal agencies, a public comment period, and an independent scientific review by the National Research Council. And in a surprising show of governmental efficiency and responsiveness, all the major comments made during the comment period have now been addressed by the agency.
Last week’s new IRIS assessment replaces the existing IRIS health risk assessment for perchloroethylene, issued in 1988. The most important update is a change in perchloroethylene’s reference dose. The IRIS reference does is meant to estimate the maximum level of daily oral exposure which a human can encounter without an “appreciable risk” of health problems over the course of his lifetime. The 1988 IRIS reference dose for perchloroethylene was set at 0.01 mg/kg-day.
The new IRIS reference dose is 0.006 mg/kg-day – a significant downward departure which will result in highly tightened standards and cleanup. This will affect Superfund sites – at hundreds of which perchloroethylene is present, drinking water standards, atmospheric emissions standards, and all areas of future agency rulemaking.
Our Chicago personal injury lawyers applaud the EPA for taking this important step. We also join with others in urging the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to act on this new data and revise the current allowed perchloroethylene exposure levels in the workplace.
In the meantime, if you or a loved one has developed cancer or another serious medical condition after working at or near a dry cleaner, talk to a personal injury attorney about whether your condition may have been caused by prolonged perchloroethylene exposure. An experience attorney can help you to sort through the possible causes in your case, and to determine whether legal action is warranted.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.