Also known as: Trichloroethene, Ethylene trichloride, TCE,
Algylen, Penzinol, Chlorilen
Chemical reference number (CAS): 79-01-6
WHAT IS TRICHLOROETHYLENE?
Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a man-made chemical that does not occur naturally in the
environment. Its a pale blue nonflammable liquid with a sweet smell that evaporates
easily. The chemical is used as a metal degreaser. In homes, TCE may be found in
typewriter correction fluid, paint, spot removers, carpet-cleaning fluids, metal cleaners,
Most TCE in air comes from metal degreasing activities associated with tool and
automobile production. TCE can also enter ground water and surface water from industrial
discharges or from improper disposal of industrial wastes at landfills. TCE has been found
in many drinking water supplies in the United States, including Wisconsin.
HOW ARE PEOPLE EXPOSED TO TRICHLOROETHYLENE?
Workers in degreasing operations have the highest risk of exposure to TCE. People who
live near factories that use TCE may be exposed to low TCE levels in the air.
Breathing: People who use TCE as a solvent (such as typewriter
correction fluid or paint remover) may breathe significant amounts of the compound. Since
TCE evaporates quickly, people who shower or bath in contaminated water may breathe the
Touching: TCE can be absorbed through the skin. Therefore, people who
use the compound without solvent-resistant gloves may be exposed.
Also, exposure can occur when people work with contaminated soil or bathe in
Drinking/Eating: TCE released onto soil readily enters groundwater.
Therefore, people who drink water from wells located near TCE disposal sites may be
exposed. Plants grown on contaminated soil do not absorb TCE. TCB has been detected at
very low levels in many processed foods as a result of its use in equipment-cleaning.
DO STANDARDS EXIST FOR REGULATING TRICHLOROETHYLENE?
Water: The state and federal drinking water standards for TCE are both
set at 5 parts per billion (ppb). We suggest you stop drinking water containing more than the
standard. If levels of TCE are very high in your water (greater than 300 ppb), you may also need to avoid washing, bathing, or using the water for other
Air: No standards exist for regulating the amount of TCE
allowed in the air of homes. However, the Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources (DNR) has set a residential indoor air action level for TCE at
0.39 parts per billion by volume (ppbV). The action level is considered to
be protective of public health. Breathing TCE for a lifetime at 0.39 ppbV is very unlikely to be harmful to people. If TCE concentrations
in air are above the action level, we recommend taking an action to halt
You can smell TCE when the level reaches 25,000 ppbV. If you can smell
the chemical, the level is too high to be safe.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources regulates the amount of TCE that can be
released into outdoor ambient air by industries.
WILL EXPOSURE TO TRICHLOROETHYLENE RESULT IN HARMFUL HEALTH EFFECTS?
The following health effects may occur immediately or shortly after inhaling air that
contains more than 50,000 ppbV TCE:
- Heart problems including cardiac arrhythmias;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Serious liver injury;
- Dizziness, headache, neurological problems; and
- Eye, nose and throat irritation.
The following health effects can occur after several years of exposure to TCE:
Cancer: There is no consistent evidence TCE exposure causes cancer in
humans. However, animals exposed to high levels of the compound have developed liver,
kidney, lung, testicular tumors, and leukemia.
Reproductive Effects: Animal studies indicate there may be an
association between maternal exposure to TCE and specific heart defects in the offspring.
Preliminary evidence in humans exposed to the chemical in their drinking water indicates
similar effects. Pregnant women should avoid exposure to TCE.
Other Effects: Inhaling or drinking TCE-contaminated water causes
kidney, liver, and lung damage in animal studies.
In general, chemicals affect the same organ systems in all people who are exposed.
However, the seriousness of the effects may vary from person to person. A person's
reaction depends on several things, including individual health, heredity, previous
exposure to chemicals including medicines, and personal habits such as smoking or
Its also important to consider the length of exposure to the chemical; the amount
of chemical exposure; and whether the chemical was inhaled, touched, or eaten.
CAN A MEDICAL TEST DETERMINE EXPOSURE TO TRICHLOROETHYLENE?
There are tests to detect TCE in the breath, urine, and blood of people exposed to high
levels of the compound within the previous 24 hours. TCE cannot be measured in people when
it results from long-term, low-level exposure. Those suspecting TCE exposure over along
period of time should contact their physician. Blood chemistry analyses which include
liver and kidney function tests may be helpful.
Seek medical advice if you have any symptoms that you think may be related to chemical
(P-44353 Revised 05/2012)
This fact sheet summarizes information about this chemical and is not a complete
listing of all possible effects. It does not refer to work exposure or emergency
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