Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Your Health- EH: Minnesota Department of Health

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?

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is used as a solvent for degreasing metal parts during the manufacture of a variety of products. It can be found in consumer products, including some wood finishes, adhesives, paint removers, and stain removers. TCE can also be used in the manufacture of other chemicals.

TCE is…

  • is a nonflammable, colorless liquid at room temperature.
  • evaporates easily into air.
  • has an ether-like odor at high concentrations; at lower levels, there is no odor to warn people that contaminants are in 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?

  • Exposure can result in 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.   

The potential for a person to actually experience a health effect depends on the amount of a chemical that a person is exposed to and the length of the exposure. Exposures to chemicals for most people are 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.

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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.

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)

Water Treatment Using Carbon Filters: GAC Filter Information 

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TCE and Vapor Intrusion

Trichloroethylene (TCE) in Air (PDF)

Vapor Intrusion

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TCE and Gardening

Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Gardening (PDF)

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More TCE Resources:

MDH Health-Based Guidance for Water

MDH Trichloroethylene: Risk Assessment Advice 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 Wednesday, June 08, 2016 at 12:20PM