The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has filed a legal challenge to a federal rule that exempts two Collegeville-area metal-tube manufacturers from reducing their emissions of trichloroethylene, a suspected carcinogen.

The petition for review was filed May 3 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit at the direction of Gov. Rendell, who announced the action yesterday.

It ramps up state opposition that began April 23 when Rendell sent Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson a strongly worded letter objecting to the exemption and disputing the agency's reasoning. Johnson has not yet responded.

Rendell said in a statement yesterday that the exemption "fails to protect the well-being of our people, our communities and our economy."

Since the early 1990s, EPA spokesman John Millett said, the agency has issued regulations covering more than 170 industries and preventing toxic emissions of more than 1.5 million tons per year. He said officials would "review this new matter and respond appropriately."

Known as TCE, the chemical is a degreaser that keeps metal tubing from breaking as it is extruded into ever-smaller diameters.

Some are smaller than a human hair and are used as coronary stents and in other medical applications.

In January, the DEP reported that airborne TCE levels around the two plants, Superior Tube in Collegeville and Accellent in Trappe, were the highest detected in the state.

More than 600 area residents attended a community meeting to voice their concern. About 11,000 people live in Trappe and Collegeville, and tens of thousands live in the four surrounding townships.

The EPA had proposed a rule that would have required the companies to reduce their emissions as much as 90 percent. The final version exempted the two companies and others in the "narrow tube sector."

The EPA said reductions were not possible. But the DEP has reached an agreement with both companies to install new equipment or switch to new technologies that would lower emissions by 30 percent or more.

"We believe the EPA and the federal government did not adequately take into account the measures that are available to the exempted industries to reduce emissions," DEP spokesman Michael Smith said yesterday.

State lawmakers from the area, including Sens. John Rafferty (R., Montgomery) and Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester) and Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery), also have spoken out against the rule.

Dinniman has introduced a bill that would require the two companies to reduce their TCE emissions at least 75 percent. He said yesterday that the EPA's exemptions "potentially put residents at risk simply because they live near narrow-tube manufacturers."

Charles McPhedran, senior attorney for Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, an environmental group with members in the Collegeville area, said he supported the DEP's legal action.

"But it's going to take a very long time to show results," he said. "DEP could tomorrow put the two . . . plants on a path to enforceable emission reductions."

The DEP, he said, "has ample authority to protect people in Collegeville without waiting for the EPA."

Read the governor's statement and more about TCE via