The Dangers of Trichloroethylene in Ground Water

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Image by Keith Beard, Salt Lake City, UT

When most people hear “trichloroethylene,” they probably have no frame of reference for this chemical, what it is used for, or how it gets into drinking water. This is one of the most common industrial solvents on the market. It is clear, doesn’t catch of fire, and has a sweet smell that makes it ideal for cleaning a huge variety of things. Runoff from manufacturing plants and businesses that use this solvent can affect the health of drinking water in some communities.

Much of the runoff from industries that use trichloroethylene ends up in the ocean, not in the nation’s drinking water, but groundwater contamination is still a serious problem in many parts of the country, especially in areas where industries have not been disposing of their hazardous waste correctly. Seepage has become a serious environmental issue and in some areas, has become a real health hazard.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) has a number of physiological effects that should be of concern to those whose water supply might be contaminated with this chemical. Overexposure to TCE can affect the central nervous system. Many people experience drowsiness, headaches, or light-headedness. Over time, the more exposure a person has to it, these symptoms will continue to persist and worsen. If the exposure becomes chronic, there can be damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and liver.

As with many chemicals, most people are exposed in their workplace and most areas that have been affected by TCE have already been cleaned. Up until very recently, however, this chemical was not listed as a carcinogen. Today, more than half of the states in the USA classify it as such. Most industries that used this chemical heavily have moved on to other solvents, leading to far less need for cleanup or remediation of dump sites and no recent discoveries of TCE in drinking water.

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