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Environmental Health Division
Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Your Health
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.
- a nonflammable, colorless liquid at room temperature.
- a chemical that evaporates easily into air.
- a chemical that 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.
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.
TCE and public drinking water systems
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.
TCE and private wells
Drinking water from private wells contaminated with TCE may be tested as part of cleaning up a contaminated site. With a few exceptions, TCE contamination in groundwater is mainly confined to areas near industrial sources or old unregulated dumpsites. A filtration system may be installed on private wells to insure safe drinking water in these areas.
A filter with granular activated carbon (GAC) is a proven option to remove certain chemicals, particularly organic chemicals, from water. Learn more about GAC Filters here: Water Treatment Using Carbon Filters: GAC Filter Information
TCE and water information sheet
These MDH technical guidance resources are intended to help those who use health-based guidance to make decisions about managing exposures to TCE.
- Trichloroethylene (TCE) Health-Based Guidance for Drinking Water (PDF)
- Health-Based Guidance for Air: Trichloroethylene
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry offers continuing education through the Environmental Health and Medicine Education - Trichloroethylene Toxicity Course.
Contact for more information or with questions:
TCE and TCE Contamination Sites
For more information about TCE and /or contamination sites, please contact the Site Assessment and Consultation Unit at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-201-4897.
TCE and Drinking Water
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.
Public Drinking Water Supply
- If your drinking water comes from a public drinking water supply, contact MDH Drinking Water Protection at email@example.com or call 651-201-4700.
- If your drinking water comes from a private well that you maintain, contact MDH Well Management at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 651-201-4600.