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Trichloroethylene (TCE)

TCE is a clear colourless liquid used mainly for degreasing of metal parts in the automotive and metal industries. It can also be found in some household products, such as glues, adhesives, paint removers, spot removers, rug cleaning fluids, paints, metal cleaners and typewriter correction fluid.

The largest source of TCE in the environment is through air emissions from factories that use it to remove grease from metals. TCE can also enter air and groundwater if it is improperly disposed of or leaks into the ground. It evaporates easily but can stay in the soil and in groundwater for an extended period of time.

Potential health effects of TCE differ depending on:

  • how much a person was exposed to (via breathing, drinking, eating or skin contact);
  • how long a person was exposed; and
  • how susceptible a person is to the effects of TCE.

Human Health Risks

Health risks can be categorized into acute effects and chronic/sub-chronic effects. Acute effects are those that occur after short-term exposure (e.g. minutes, a few days) to very high concentrations of TCE (e.g. concentrations in the hundreds of thousands of micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) or greater). Symptoms of acute exposure can include drowsiness, decreased memory and perception, visual effects and anesthesia.

Chronic effects are those that occur after long-term exposure (e.g. years). Sub-chronic effects are those that occur after intermediate-term exposure (e.g. months). These effects include cancer (from chronic exposure) and non-cancer effects (from sub-chronic or chronic exposure). Cancers that have been associated with exposure to TCE include kidney, liver and lymphoid tissue cancers.

Chronic and sub-chronic effects, other than cancer, are less understood and research is ongoing. Potential effects include those to the central nervous system, kidney, liver, respiratory, developmental and reproductive systems. However, it is generally recognized that cancer is the most common health outcome.


TCE Fact Sheet
TCE Non-cancerous Chronic and Sub-chronic Health Effects
TCE profile by Carex Canada
Q&A – Former Westclox Factory and Trichloroethylene (TCE)