Trichloroethylene, or TCE, was long considered to be one of the most reliable and versatile solvents on the market for both industrial and commercial applications. The halocarbon solvent has been utilized for various purposes throughout history and even today.
However, this solvent is only becoming more controversial with the years, and even being banned for certain applications due to its toxicity.
Read on to learn more about the history of this chemical and why trichloroethylene exposure is bad.
History and Uses of Trichloroethylene
Here are only some of the examples of how TCE has been used throughout history:
- Degreasing agent – effectively dissolves grease and cleans metal equipment
- Manufacturing of refrigerants – used to produce fluorocarbon refrigerants and was previously used in industrial refrigeration applications because of its heat exchange properties
- Extraction of vegetable oils – was used to extract oils from plants such as coconut and soy
- Dry cleaning – was also relied on for spot removal
- Anesthetic – previously used as a medical anesthetic and replaced chloroform
Though still widely used as a degreasing solvent and in the manufacture of refrigerants, many of the other applications listed above are no longer utilizing TCE. TCE was banned for use as an anesthetic by the FDA in 1977 and recently became banned altogether in the state of Minnesota. In the European Union, trichloroethylene is considered a banned chemical for any and all uses.
Why is Trichloroethylene Controversial?
Over the decades, the effects of trichloroethylene on those who are consistently exposed to the solvent, like industrial workers, have been revealed to be damaging to human health:
- Carcinogenic by all routes of exposure, causing liver and kidney cancer
- Moderate TCE exposure levels can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, and confusion
- High TCE exposure levels can cause comas, liver damage, kidney damage, and even death
- Can cause neurological damage
- Some evidence shows that it may cause damage to a fetus
On top of trichloroethylene exposure putting industrial workers at risk, the chemical has been shown to contaminate groundwater and drinking water sources through storage tank leaks and spills. This leads to unsuspecting people being exposed, especially those who live near a facility that uses TCE or drinking water from a potentially contaminated source.
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