TCE (Trichloroethylene) has been found in at least 852 of 1,416 National Priorities List sites identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A release from an industrial plant, or from a container, does not always lead to exposure. You can be exposed to a chemical only when you come into contact with it. Exposures occur through breathing, eating, or drinking substances containing the chemical, or from skin contact with it. If you are exposed to TCE, the appearance of symptoms and their seriousness is dependent upon how much, how long and by what way you were exposed. Your sex, age, lifestyle and state of health also contribute.

What is TCE?

TCE is a nonflammable colorless liquid at room temperature with a somewhat sweet odor and a sweet burning taste. Triclene and Vitran are trade names for TCE. It is a manmade chemical that does not occur naturally in the environment. TCE is mainly used to remove grease from metal parts. TCE can be found in some household products, including typewriter correction fluid, paint removers, adhesives, and spot removers. There is no need for concern about these products if manufactures directions are followed.

What happens to TCE when it enters the environment?

It easily evaporates into the air, but some can stay in the soil or groundwater. In about a week, half of the TCE in air and water will break down into other chemicals, some of which may be harmful. TCE is released to groundwater when it passes through contaminated soil. TCE is not likely to be stored in high levels in humans or animals.

How might I be exposed to TCE?

Evaporation from paints, glues, and other chemicals, accidental release from factories where it is made, breathing air around factories that use TCE to dissolve chemicals, or drinking TCE-contaminated water. The two main sources of exposure to TCE are the environment and the workplace.

How can TCE affect my health?

Breathing very high amounts of TCE can make you dizzy or sleepy and can lead to unconsciousness. TCE is currently not considered to cause cancer in humans. We do not know if TCE will affect human reproduction or cause an increase of cancer in people who are exposed to it through drinking water.

Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to TCE?

There is a test that can tell if you have been recently exposed to TCE, since this chemical can be measured in your breath. Also, your doctor can have a number of breakdown products of TCE measured in your urine or blood. None of these tests are routinely available at your doctor's office.

For more information contact:

Indiana State Department of Health
Environmental Epidemiology Section
2 N. Meridian Street, Section 3-D
Indianapolis, IN 46204
317/351-7190 Ext 262

This fact sheet was supported in whole by funds from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act trust fund through a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.