Trichloroethene (TCE) in Public Water and Health

TCE in public water

Trichloroethene (TCE), which is also known as trichoroethylene, is a synthetic chemical. TCE can be found in soil and water, particularly at hazardous waste sites. The chemical can leach through soil and into groundwater. The maximum contaminant level (MCL) for trichloroethene is 5 mcg/L.

Exposure and Risk

TCE had many industrial and household uses. In industry, it was widely used to remove oil or grease from manufactured parts. In the home, it was an ingredient of products such as spot cleaners, glues, and aerosol sprays. Since January 1, 2002, TCE is no longer manufactured for domestic use in the United States because it affects the ozone layer.

According to EPA, some persons who consume water containing excess amounts of TCE over many years may experience problems with their livers and may have an increased risk of cancer.


Community Public Water Supplies are already being tested for TCE and other solvents, and are required to provide that information each year to consumers in the annual Consumer Confidence Report. If a doctor finds that a patient has been exposed to substantial amounts of TCE, the doctor should ask whether any children in the household might also have been exposed. The doctor might need to ask the state health department to investigate.

Children can be exposed to TCE in household products, such as glues and cleaners that were manufactured before 2002. Parents should store household chemicals out of reach of young children to prevent accidental poisonings or skin irritation. Household chemicals should always be stored in their original labeled containers. Household chemicals should never be stored in containers that children would find attractive to eat or drink from, such as old soda bottles. People should keep the Poison Control Center number (1-800-222-1222) near the phone.

Sometimes, older children sniff household chemicals in an attempt to get high. Children may be exposed to TCE by inhaling products containing it. Parents should talk with their children about the dangers of sniffing chemicals.