TCE in Your Water: New Research Shows The Government is Not Doing Enough to Protect You

Exposure to this contaminant has lead to cancer and other adverse health effects for veterans and their family members living on a major American military base.


Contaminants like lead have received much attention in the media lately, but have you heard of Trichloroethylene (TCE)? The word sounds a bit intimidating at first. Stick with me and by the end of this article and I promise you you’ll know everything worth knowing about this carcinogen. Trust me you will want to get to know TCE especially if you are one of the 14 million Americans who get water from drinking water supplies contaminated with it.

1.) What is Trichloroethylene?

Trichloroethylene is a toxic chemical used for various industrial as well as household applications. It was first created as an inhalation anesthetic used to anesthetize patients prior to surgery. In modern times, TCE is mainly used as an industrial solvent or degreaser to clean metal parts. Around 250 million pounds of TCE is used a year.

The problem lies in the fact that TCE often finds its way into groundwater from industrial plants. This groundwater becomes the source of drinking water for nearby community water systems. To complicate matters, TCE is extremely volatile and can mix with air to create plumes of gas which sometimes linger around cities and pollute the air.

The EPA has proposed banning certain uses of TCE, but under the new administration, these bans will no longer be pursued.

2.)Why Trichloroethylene is bad for your health

What’s so bad about TCE? A host of serious health effects are linked to long-term TCE exposure. Numerous studies conducted on both humans and animals have shown exposure can lead to cancer, harm to the brain and nervous system, hormone disruption, and immune system complications.

Pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the effects of TCE. Exposure has been linked to fetal development problems — particularly malformation of the heart. Small children are another vulnerable group because they tend to drink and breathe in more air (relative to body weight) than adults and older children, exposing themselves to more TCE in the environment.

The Marine base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina provides a clear example of what can go wrong when water is contaminated with TCE. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the evidence is equipoise that exposure to TCE while veterans and their family members were living on base caused the development of:

· Leukemia

· Liver cancer

· Multiple myeloma

· End-stage renal disease

· Parkinson disease

· Scleroderma

If you live in an area known for contamination, there are tests available that can measure the amount (if any)of TCE in your body. Contact the Center for Disease Control for more information.

3.) At what level is TCE unsafe?

The EPA’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) for TCE in drinking water is 5 parts per billion (ppb). This means if concentrations above 5ppb are discovered, the water should be considered contaminated. However, scientists think this number is too high and should be updated to reflect the latest research. After all, this number has remained unchanged since 1985! Plenty of new research has come out since.

Some states are taking the lead when it comes to keeping their citizens safe from TCE. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), after reviewing hundreds of recent studies, set a new guideline for TCE in drinking water at .04 ppb. That’s more than 12 times less than what the EPA considers dangerous!

However, the level set by MDH is not legally enforceable and as long as water systems test at the EPA’s limit of 5 ppb or less, they are legally considered safe and will not receive a violation.

4.) Which areas have the worst TCE contamination?

The Environmental Work Group, using information compiled from state water quality data, has created a map of areas affected by TCE contamination. A large cluster of high TCE spots can be seen in Southern California within the industrial sector of Los Angeles and spread out across three counties.

Large cluster of TCE plumes in the Southern California Area

Out of all the TCE spots, the worst on the map we’ve seen is in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with a reading of 3.03 ppb. Though this level is significantly above the .4 ppb safe level set by the MDH, it is still below the legally enforceable level set by the EPA.

Note: Since the creation of this map, some municipalities have taken action to remediate TCE levels in their respective water systems. For the most accurate and up-to-date TCE readings, you can request a free water analysis report from your water supplier.

5.) How can one be exposed to TCE?

Exposure to TCE can occur in three ways: drinking, inhaling, and skin contact.

To drink water contaminated with TCE is the highest form of exposure. In other words, a greater amount of TCE enters your system when you drink it compared to inhaling or touching it.

When industrial plants improperly dispose of waste water containing TCE, it sometimes ends up in the water we drink. This was the case in Mancelona, Michigan where a metal parts company dumped TCE waste in areas around their building.

Over time, the toxic waste seeped through ground making its way to large bodies of water to create the largest TCE plume in the United States. Tests show TCE levels in the groundwater to be several hundred parts per billion!

If you think you’re safe from TCE because you drink bottled water, think again. Taking showers, baths, or even washing dishes with water contaminated with TCE can expose you to TCE inhalation — the second highest form of exposure. Additionally, people living in areas near plants that use TCE vaporization, could be exposed to TCE from outside air.

You can be exposed to TCE while washing dishes

Certain household products — mostly brake and electrical part cleaners — contain levels of TCE. When these products come into contact with your skin, TCE may enter your body but only at a fraction of the rate of drinking or inhaling it.

Taking Action

So now you know that repeated long term exposure to certain levels of TCE is a threat to your health and the current EPA maximum contaminant level for TCE may be too high to keep us safe.

In light of this knowledge, you’re probably eager to live a life free of TCE contamination. However, given the many ways TCE exposure can occur, completely taking it out of the picture is nearly impossible.

But science tells us you don’t have to completely eliminate all TCE exposure to be safe. If you can recall from earlier, state scientists from Minnesota — using the latest research — found the safe level of TCE to be .04 parts per billion.

If you can reduce TCE levels in your tap water to this level, the effects of TCE become negligible. How do experts recommend you do this?

According to scientists Tasha Stoiber, PhD and Olga Naidenko, PhD, who have conducted extensive research on TCE, the most effective way to reduce exposure is to use an activated carbon filter in your home. It’s important that this filter is certified to reduce the presence of TCE from tap water.

Nuvia Water Technologies builds such filtration systems. Their advanced 5-stage filtration technology uses reverse osmosis to greatly reduce the presence of TCE and thousands of other organic and inorganic contaminants from your water.

Nuvia products remove TCE and other contaminants from tap water

Nuvia makes it possible to receive safe, clean, bottle-quality water right from your tap. Not only can you drink this superior quality water, you can use it to do everything from showering to washing dishes!

But how can you know the quality of water entering your home? Nuvia can help. Give them a call and they can perform a real-time comprehensive water analysis on your existing water supply. They can also answer any questions you might have about water quality or filtration.

Call 951–734–7400 today to schedule an appointment!

(Sources incorporated into article as hyperlinks)