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Community Water


Trichloroethene (TCE) and Your Health

Trichloroethene (TCE), which is also known as trichoroethylene, is a synthetic chemical that does not occur naturally in the environment. It is a colorless liquid with a sweet, sharp odor.

TCE can be found in soil and water, particularly at hazardous waste sites. The chemical can leach through soil and into groundwater. TCE easily dissolves in water and remains there for a long time. However, because it tends to evaporate easily, it is most commonly found in the vapor form.

TCE had many industrial and household uses. In industry, it was widely used to remove oil or grease from manufactured parts. In the home, it was an ingredient of products such as spot cleaners, glues, and aerosol sprays. Since January 1, 2002, TCE is no longer manufactured for domestic use in the United States because it affects the ozone layer.

According to EPA, some persons who consume water containing excess amounts of TCE over many years may experience problems with their livers and may have an increased risk of cancer.

Exposure and Risk

The MCL for trichloroethene is 5 µg/L. People are not likely to be exposed to large enough amounts of TCE to cause adverse health effects. They can be exposed to TCE primarily by drinking contaminated water and eating contaminated food. TCE has been found in low levels in rivers and lakes, in soil, in drinking water, and in drinking water from underground wells. Releases during manufacture and transportation and during industrial or household use can cause high levels, but the levels vary substantially from one location to another.

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EPA requires public water suppliers to test for TCE and treat water with levels above 5 parts per billion. Well owners should follow this standard. People can contact their state or local health departments for a list of state-certified laboratories.

If a doctor finds that a patient has been exposed to substantial amounts of TCE, the doctor should ask whether any children in the household might also have been exposed. The doctor might need to ask the state health department to investigate.

Children can be exposed to TCE in household products, such as glues and cleaners that were manufactured before 2002. Parents should store household chemicals out of reach of young children to prevent accidental poisonings or skin irritation. Household chemicals should always be stored in their original labeled containers. Household chemicals should never be stored in containers that children would find attractive to eat or drink from, such as old soda bottles. People should keep the Poison Control Center number (1-800-222-1222) near the phone.

Sometimes, older children sniff household chemicals in an attempt to get high. Children may be exposed to TCE by inhaling products containing it. Parents should talk with their children about the dangers of sniffing chemicals.

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