Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Your Health

On this page:

What is TCE?
What are possible health concerns from contact with TCE?
TCE in Minnesota Groundwater
TCE in Drinking Water and Groundwater Contamination Sites
TCE and Vapor Intrusion
TCE and Gardening
More TCE Resources
Contact for more information

What is TCE?

TCE is…
  • a nonflammable, colorless liquid commonly used in industry to degrease metal parts and was also used as a dry-cleaning agent.
  • odorless at levels that may cause health impacts.
  • a chemical that may also be found in household products such as wood finishes, adhesives, paint removers, lubricants, and cleaners.
  • a common environmental contaminant that dissolves in water and readily evaporates from soil and water into the air.

TCE that has been spilled or dumped on the ground can pollute soil and groundwater.  Because TCE moves from water to air easily, it is not usually found in surface soils or in open surface water.

  • TCE spilled on the ground can move down through the soil and into water under the ground where it may pollute private and public drinking water wells. It can also move from water under the ground into rivers or lakes and then quickly move into the air.
  • TCE can evaporate from the polluted soil and groundwater and rise toward the ground surface.  If these TCE vapors come to a basement as they travel to the surface, they may enter through cracks in the foundation, around pipes, or through a sump or drain system.  In this way, the vapors enter buildings and contaminate indoor air.  This process, when pollution moves from air spaces in soil to indoor air, is called vapor intrusion.

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What are possible health concerns from contact with TCE ?

  • MDH has concluded that the main health concerns from the lowest exposures to TCE are the risk of immune system effects such as changes contributing to autoimmune disease and increased risk of heart defects in the developing fetus if the pregnant mother is exposed in the first trimester.  At higher levels, TCE may increase the risk of harm to the central nervous system, kidney, liver, and male reproductive system.
  • TCE is a carcinogen.  Long term occupational exposures to TCE are associated with kidney cancer in humans.  There is also evidence that TCE exposure can increase the risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and liver cancer. 

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TCE in Minnesota Groundwater

With a few exceptions, TCE contamination in groundwater is mainly confined to areas near industrial sources or old unregulated dumpsites.

Currently, all public drinking water systems in Minnesota meet the federal regulatory requirements (Maximum Contaminant Levels or MCLs) of 5 ug/L of TCE in drinking water. The Consumer Confidence Report, which is required to report the contaminants in your public water supply, is available to community members from your local water utility. The vast majority of public water supplies in Minnesota do not contain TCE.

If you have questions or concerns about a specific water supply system, please use the contact information below to connect with Minnesota Department of Health staff.

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TCE in Drinking Water and Groundwater Contamination Sites

TCE in Drinking Water and Groundwater Contamination Sites
(PDF: 233KB/2 pages)

Water Treatment Using Carbon Filters: GAC Filter Information 

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TCE and Vapor Intrusion

Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Vapor Intrusion (PDF: 173KB/2pages)

Trichloroethylene (TCE): Screening Values & Measurement
(PDF: 147KB/3 pages)

Investigation into TCE soil vapor in the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis: The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency(MPCA) website has information about public meetings, the study area, the E. Hennepin Ave Site and the former General Mills site, maps, access agreements, contacts and more.

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TCE and Gardening

Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Gardening (PDF: 274KB/2 pages)

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More TCE Resources:

MDH Health-Based Guidance for Water

MDH Trichloroethylene: Chronic Health-Based Value for Air

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Contact for more information or with questions:

For more information about TCE and /or contamination sites, please contact the Site Assessment and Consultation Unit at health.hazard@state.mn.us or 651-201-4897.

For information about TCE and Drinking Water, please contact the appropriate source listed below. If necessary, please leave your name, contact information, and your questions. MDH staff will contact you as soon as possible.

If your drinking water comes from a public drinking water supply, contact MDH Drinking Water Protection at health.drinkingwater@state.mn.us or call 651-201-4700.

If your drinking water comes from a private well that you maintain, contact MDH Well Management at health.wells@state.mn.us or call 651-201-4600.

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Updated Friday, 13-Dec-2013 16:08:13 CST