Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a toxic chemical that is commonly used as a solvent. It is a clear, colorless liquid that has a sweet odor and is highly volatile, meaning that it quickly produces vapors. The majority (~84 percent) of the 250 million pounds used each year is used in closed systems as an intermediate chemical for manufacturing refrigerant chemicals, ~15 percent as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts – particularly in the automotive industry and metal machining industry, and the remaining small percentage accounts for other uses including use in consumer products. Consumer products include spray degreasers, lubricants, paints, paint removers, adhesives such as protective coating to finish prints or artwork, and as spot removers and rug-cleaning fluids.
What uses are EPA considering for regulation under TSCA Section 6(a)?
Commercial use of TCE in open top vapor degreasing at commercial shops (both precision and non-precision cleaning).
Consumer and commercial use of TCE in spray degreasers.
Consumer use of TCE in clear protective coating sprays.
Commercial use of TCE as a spotting agent in dry cleaning
What are the potential risks to people? EPA’s risk assessment evaluated human health risks to consumers and workers, including bystanders, from inhalation exposures. Single (acute) or short-term exposure can potentially affect the developing fetus. High acute concentrations of TCE vapors can irritate the respiratory system and skin and induce central nervous system effects such as light-headedness, drowsiness, and headaches. Repeated (chronic) exposure or prolonged exposure to TCE has been associated with effects in the liver, kidneys, immune system, and central nervous system. EPA has concerns for effects in the developing fetus from both acute and chronic exposure. TCE is carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure.
How can TCE affect my health or the environment?
The public health significance of groundwater contamination that results in a release of TCE (from auto repair shops, metal industry, military installations, dry cleaners, etc.) often results in a Superfund site to be added to the National Priorities List for cleanup prior to residents using local groundwater wells (private or community supply). Exposure does not just occur from drinking the water, but can also volatize out of the water exposing people to TCE when taking showers. TCE may also volatilize out of contaminated soil and groundwater, contaminating the air in homes, which is defined as vapor intrusion.
Example of a TCE plume after 2.5 years.
TCE will persist and travel through soil and groundwater for years. In an effort to raise public awareness about the underground toxic plume of TCE that is slowly moving to the Greylock well in North Adams’ West End, college students created a 5-minute documentary:
What can I do?
Learn more by researching the resources or watching the videos listed below.
Learn more and provide comments to EPA on the regulations being developed for TCE at Potential TCE and Paint Remover Regulatory Revisions
Tribes, such as the Santa Clara Pueblo, have been affected by TCE. A summary of the North Railroad Avenue Plume site in New Mexico (within the exterior boundaries of the Santa Clara Indian Reservation) can be accessed atwww.epa.gov/earth1r6/6sf/pdffiles/north-railroad-ave-nm.pdf
. Additionally, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has prepared a public health assessment for the site, available at www.atsdr.cdc.gov/hac/pha/pha.asp?docid=1204&pg=1#sum
Santa Clara Pueblo staff, Shawn Chato and Brian Suazo, collect water samples from the Rio Grande, ensuring their resource continues to be free of TCE.
While speaking with Dino Chavarria, Santa Clara Pueblo Environmental Director, NTTC support staff learned that they recently provided the community an update on the site in their quarterly newsletter in response to the many questions that continue to come into their office. Santa Clara environmental staff collaborate with EPA and the state to monitor the site, ensuring the safety of their members and resources.
Tribal engagement in the Superfund process was critical for including consideration of traditional and cultural use of Pueblo resources. The Rio Grande is a Santa Clara Pueblo resource that was being impacted by the TCE plume of contamination. The Rio has been a source of irrigation, recreation, and a vital part of the Pueblo’s culture for a thousand years. &TCE and PCE will break down to Vinyl Chloride, a carcinogen. It was important that the remedy selected to clean this site would prevent it from spreading even further onto Pueblo lands but also break down the TCE to harmless constituents. TCE is such a persistent chemical in the environment. It will not easily dissolve and can even degrade clay layers and further contaminate groundwater. Any tribal community near a facility that has used TCE for degreasing or dry cleaning should be vigilant about contamination that isn’t easily detected.&
There are currently 852 Superfund sites in which TCE is a contaminant of concern and several of which it is the primary contaminant of concern. A recent report under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPRCA) shows that 525 facilities nationwide released over 8 million pounds of TCE to the air, 400 pounds to surface water, and 12,600 pounds to the land.
Please submit your experiences (successes/challenges) and tribal-specific documents to share on our website using the attached form:
Case Study template
NTTC TCE Fact Sheet (2pp):
EPA's Notification of Consultation and Coordination on Proposed Rulemakings under the TSCA for 1) Methylene Chloride and NMP in Paint Removers and 2) TCE in Certain Uses:
EPA’s Background Information for Proposed Rulemaking under TSCA Section 6(a) for TCE (4pp):
US EPA OCSPP’s TSCA Work Plan Chemical Risk Assessment Trichloroethylene: Degreasing, Spot Cleaning and Arts & Crafts Uses (212pp):
US EPA OGWDW Technical Factsheet on Trichloroethylene (3pp):
US EPA Toxicity and Exposure Assessment for Children’s Health (TEACH) Chemical Summary for Trichloroethylene (13pp):