Trichloroethylene is a clear liquid at room temperature with a sweet, chloroform-like odour. Produced commercially since the 1920s, trichloroethylene has been used as a solvent and degreaser. Trichloroethylene is related to another chlorinated solvent, tetrachloroethylene (also called perchloroethylene or PERC). Trichloroethylene may also be referred to as trichloroethene or TCE. There are numerous other synonyms and product names; see HSDB for more information.
Trichloroethylene has been classified by IARC as Group 1, carcinogenic to humans, with a well established link to kidney cancer. Epidemiologic studies also found limited evidence associating TCE exposure with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and liver cancer.
Additional adverse health effects associated with low to moderate inhalation exposure to trichloroethylene range from headaches and dizziness to nerve damage. Acute exposures may cause damage to the kidneys and liver and arrhythmias. Skin irritation following dermal exposure has also been reported.
Users of >1,000 kg/yr of TCE for cold or vapour degreasing must comply with these regulations
Trichloroethylene was not included in other Canadian government chemical listings reviewed.
Trichloroethylene is used primarily for the degreasing of metals in the automotive and metal industries. In 1995, the degreasing of metals accounted for 80-90% of trichloroethylene use worldwide. Other uses include the production of adhesives and copolymers, the cleaning of electronic components, petroleum industry processes involving refining catalysts, paint removers, coatings and vinyl resins, and in laboratory reagent/solvent applications.
Trichloroethylene has been used in the past as a solvent to extract natural fats and oils, spices, hops, and caffeine from food products. It has also been used as a dry cleaning solvent, but since the 1950s this use has been very limited. Use as a spot treatment in the textile industry, however, continued into the 1990’s at least.
Canadian Production and Trade
Production and Trade
N/A [Ceased in 1985]
Export: Mainly to US and Kyrgyzstan
24 t of ‘trichloroethylene’
Import: Mainly from US and UK
708 t of ‘trichloroethylene’
t = tonne
Inhalation is the most important route of occupational exposure to trichloroethylene. Workers involved in the degreasing of metals are the most heavily exposed occupational group.
The main industrial groups that use trichloroethylene for degreasing purposes are manufacturers of furniture and fixtures, fabricated metal products, electrical and electronic equipment, and transport equipment.
The primary route of exposure to the general public is inhalation of indoor air.[5,11] Minor sources of exposure include food, drinking water, and outdoor air. TCE in indoor air likely comes from volatilization from water sources (e.g. when showering), as well as from household products containing the solvent.
Recent surveys of levels of TCE in food products in Canada are not available, but trichloroethylene has not been allowed in the preparation of foodstuffs since 1977. Older studies have found TCE in a variety of foods including dairy products, meats, oils and fats, beverages, fruits and vegetables. Margarine was found to contain the highest levels of trichloroethylene (440 to 3,600 ppb).
Environment and Health Canada estimated that the average Canadian’s daily intake of trichloroethylene is in the range of 0.37 - 0.60 mg/kg of body weight per day. Most trichloroethylene that is used is expected to eventually enter the atmosphere.
Point sources which may cause higher localized environmental levels of TCE include metal degreasing operations, sewage treatment plants, textile mills, landfills, incinerators, and septic tanks.
Trichloroethylene can be formed in groundwater by the breakdown of tetrachloroethylene.
Searches of environmental and consumer product databases yielded the following results on current potential for exposure to trichloroethylene in Canada:
NPRI and US Household Products Database
Search term: ‘trichloroethylene'
Released into Environment
Aerospace parts and products manufacturing, aircraft servicing, metal servicing, chemical manufacturing (49 companies)