Synonyms: Trichloroethylene; TCE
Trichloroethene is a liquid that evaporates quickly. Most trichloroethene is used to make other chemicals or to remove grease from metal. It has also been used for many other purposes.
Environmental Fate and Transport
Because it evaporates so quickly, most trichloroethene released into the environment ends up in the atmosphere. Trichloroethene generally degrades quickly in the atmosphere, with a half-life of no more than a week. Trichloroethene released to the ground can evaporate directly to the atmosphere, bind to some kinds of soil particles, or move through the soil and end up in groundwater. Trichloroethene can move with groundwater. It can also evaporate from soil and groundwater, then move through the soil as vapor, and end up in structures where people can breathe it. Trichloroethene in soil or groundwater tends to persist for a long time (years or decades) but can also degrade into other chemicals, especially under anaerobic (low oxygen) conditions.
Exposure to trichloroethene is possible from drinking water or breathing air that contains trichloroethene, or less likely by eating food or touching soil that contains trichloroethene. People who work with or around trichloroethene may be exposed at work.
Our bodies readily absorb trichloroethene, particularly from drinking or breathing. Trichloroethene can be stored in body fat, but usually not for long. Most trichloroethene is breathed out or broken down by the liver and then excreted in urine.
Health effects of trichloroethene depend on dose and exposure duration. There are many documented effects, including headaches, dizziness, rashes, reproductive effects, nerve damage, irregular heart rhythm, liver damage (and possibly liver cancer), kidney damage or cancer, or in the case of extreme short term exposures, coma or death.
The preceding paragraphs are summarized from the Public Health Statement for Trichloroethylene published by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Additional Cancer Assessments
U.S. EPA's Integrated Risk Information System states that trichloroethene is a human carcinogen.
The National Institutes of Health has determined that trichloroethene is known to be a human carcinogen.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that "There is sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of trichloroethylene. Trichloroethylene causes cancer of the kidney. A positive association has been observed between exposure to trichloroethylene and non-Hodgkin lymphoma and liver cancer." (IARC, page 189).