Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a man-made chemical that can be a liquid or gas. It is mainly used as a solvent in manufacturing to degrease metal parts. It can also be used in the production of other industrial chemicals. A variety of home products may contain TCE, including wood finishes, glues and adhesives, paint or paint removers, spot cleaners, and metal cleaners.
Breathing TCE vapor, especially at high levels or over long periods of time, can cause negative health effects to the immune and reproductive systems, liver, kidneys, central nervous system, and may affect fetal development during pregnancy. Long term exposures to TCE can increase the risk of kidney cancer. There is also evidence that TCE exposure can increase the risk for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and liver cancer. TCE exposure for most people is likely to be at low levels for part of a day, or part of a year, etc.; these exposures are unlikely to be associated with health effects. Visit the Minnesota Department of Health's TCE web page for more information.
TCE in Minnesota
Many Minnesota companies use TCE in their industrial processes and operate under MPCA air permits, which regulate how much TCE can be emitted from their facilities. TCE may also be used by some businesses in small enough amounts that their use is not regulated by the MPCA.
TCE pollution has received increased attention recently, after the MPCA cited Water Gremlin, a company in White Bear Township, for excessive TCE air emissions. Learn more:
Land and groundwater contamination
At many industrial sites that pre-date modern environmental laws, TCE was disposed of onsite, contaminating both land and groundwater. In some cases, TCE in groundwater is creating vapor intrusion issues. Vapor intrusion occurs when chemical vapors migrate from contaminated groundwater through the soil into the basements or foundations of buildings. Learn more:
The scientific understanding that contamination in soil or groundwater can result in the possibility of vapor intrusion has developed only in recent years. Environmental agencies are having to reevaluate contaminated sites for possible vapor intrusion issues. The MPCA has determined that the potential for vapor intrusion exists at 631 active sites, where releases of hazardous substances have contaminated soil and groundwater. In addition, the MPCA has identified approximately 1,430 closed sites where volatile organic compounds (including TCE) are a concern. The agency has prioritized approximately 150 of the 1,430 closed sites based on the presence of volatile organic compounds and the proximity to sensitive sites, such as schools and day care facilities. Learn more: