August Mack Newsletter | May, 2017

The History of 1,1,1-Trichloroethane Use
by Tim DeWitt

1,1,1-Trichloroethane (TCA) has been used primarily as a degreasing and cleaning solvent during it history in the United States.  In the 1990’s it was considered the most used and effective cleaning solvent.  TCA was intend very effective in removing greases, oils and waxes. However, TCA use, like other chlorinated hydrocarbons, has left its mark our environment, making it a common soil and groundwater contaminant at environmentally impacted properties throughout the United States. 

TCA was a widely used solvent in the past, especially for industrial metal cleaning and vapor degreasing purposes, most notably in the automotive, aircraft, the missile production industry and the electronic industries. TCA also found use as a pesticide, a dry-cleaning agent for leather and suede, as an aerosol solvent/propellant, in drain cleaner and in adhesives, textiles and as a feedstock for production of hydrochlorofluorocarbons.

TCA was discovered in France around 1840; however, it was not until the mid-1900s before commercial use of TCA began in Europe. The early use for TCA was said to be as a rubber solvent.  Although a patent was applied for in the United States in the 1930’s for TCA for dry-cleaning purposes there was really no large scale use of TCA until the 1950’s.

In the 1950’s Dow Chemical was the first to introduce their TCA product named “Chloroethene” to the market.  By the end of the decade, Dow Chemical was producing approximately 20 million pounds of TCA per year.  This product was the first wide-scale production of TCA in the United States.  Initially TCA was used as a replacement for carbon tetrachloride (CTC) in cold solvent cleaning applications and as an aerosol propellant.  It was used for these application since if used in higher temperature vapor degreasing operations, TCA would break down and become corrosive to certain metals including zinc and iron but especially aluminum. 

It wasn’t until the mid to late 1950’s until an effective stabilizer was found for TCA that would prevent its breakdown and allow for vapor degreasing operations.  Although there were more than one hundred formulations added to stabilize TCA, the most widely used stabilizer was 1,4-dioxane.  It was found that the addition of approximately 4% of 1,4-dioxane to the TCA allowed TCA to be used to degrease aluminum, iron and zinc.  As a result of the development of stabilized TCA formulations, by the end of the decade, TCA had replaced CTC for aluminum degreasing operations, especially for cold cleaning applications.

In the 1960’s, TCA production began to greatly increase.  Other producers entered the market including PPG Industries, the Ethyl Corporation and Vulcan Chemicals.  Dow Chemical introduced several new stabilized TCA formulations for use in spray applications including a line of TCA products specially designed for use in the aerospace industry where aluminum alloy use was common.  Even with all of the new production capabilities, TCA was found to be in short supply in the last half of the 1960’s due to the need the for degreasing solvents to support the Vietnam War materials production.

The Clean Air Act (CAA) regulation released in 1970 greatly increased the demand for TCA over chlorinated hydrocarbons such as trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene and methylene chloride.  The 1977 CAA Volatile Organic Compound regulation specifically listed TCA as exempt.  As a result of the CAA and due to TCE production shortages, TCA production surpassed TCE for the first time in 1973.  Near the end of the 1970’s, all the new TCA production resulted in a surplus in the production capacity in the United States.

Even with the increased production, the beginning of the end of United States TCA production began in the 1970’s. Although TCA was thought to be less toxic than other chlorinated hydrocarbons, in 1973 deaths were attributed to the use of TCA-containing aerosol decongestants.  This led the US FDA to restrict TCA-containing products for human use.  Later in 1978, aerosol propellants, including TCA were banned in an attempt to protect the ozone layer.  This ban immediately reduced the TCA market by 6% (the percentage of United States TCA production used for aerosol production).

The 1980 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act regulations classified TCA as hazardous when in spent solvents. Later in 1985, the Safe Drinking Water Act proposed a maximum contaminant level of 200 micrograms per liter for TCA. Even with these regulations, vapor degreasing and cold cleaning were still common uses for TCA.

The 1990’s saw regulatory and market pressures beginning to greatly reduce the use of TCA for degreasing purposes. TCA production/use was hit with a Federal tax as an ozone-depleting chemical driving up the cost of using TCA for degreasing purposes.  The The 1990’s Toxic Release Inventory 33-50 program federally mandated TCA emission reductions by 33% by 1992 and 50% by 1995.  Finally, the 1990 CAA Amendments listed TCA as a Hazardous Air Pollutant and as an ozone depleting chemical under Title VI.  The CAA Amendments called for a complete phase-out of all emission creating uses of TCA. 

Ultimately, Dow Chemical shut down all TCA production in 1994.  Other manufacturers PPG Industries and Vulcan Chemicals did not shut down their plants in the 1990’s but reduced their production. Since 2002, all TCA manufacture has been banned for domestic uses in the United States.


Tim DeWitt is a senior technical engineer at August Mack Environmental, Inc. in the Indianapolis office. He has more than 20 years of experience in Construction Inspection & Management, Remedial Investigation, Design and Installation, Groundwater Recovery and Treatment, Underground Storage Tank Removals, Subsurface Geological Remedial Investigations, Litigation support and Remedial Scoping & Estimating. Tim can be reached at 317.916.3161 or via e-mail at tdewitt@augustmack.com.


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