Tetrachloroethylene, used commercially since the early 1900s, has been an important chlorinated solvent worldwide. Tetrachloroethylene is a colourless, volatile liquid with an ether-like odour. It is also commonly referred to as perchloroethylene or PERC. There are numerous other synonyms and product names; see the Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB) for more information.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified tetrachloroethylene as Group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans, based on sufficient evidence in animals and limited evidence in humans. Exposure to PERC has been associated with bladder cancer in humans. It is known to cause leukemia in rats and liver cancer in mice, as well as kidney cancer in male rats.
Other adverse health effects associated with PERC exposure include skin irritation and burns, depression of the central nervous system, liver and kidney damage, and reproductive effects.[2,4]
National Classification System for Contaminated Sites
Rank = "High hazard"
Environment Canada: Tetrachloroethylene in Dry Cleaning Regulations
PERC must be used in a closed-loop, dry to dry machine. May not be used for spot treatments*.
CEPA 2003: Solvent Degreasing Regulations
Users of >1,000 kg/yr of PERC for cold or vapour degreasing must comply with the regulations.
* See the compliance guide for further discussion of these and several other rules for use of PERC in dry cleaning.
DSL = domestic substance list
CEPA = Canadian Environmental Protection Act
Tetrachloroethylene was not included in other Canadian chemical listings reviewed.[19,20]
Tetrachloroethylene is used primarily for dry cleaning and as an intermediate in chemical synthesis. It is also used as a metal degreaser and in paint removers, printing inks, spot removers, automotive cleaners, and adhesives. PERC is often used in combination with another chlorinated solvent called trichloroethylene (or TCE). Please see the CAREX Profile for TCE for more information.
PERC is used for its ability to remove fats, greases, waxes, and oils from fabric without damaging it. It was introduced to the dry cleaning industry in the 1930s, replacing stain removers commonly used at that time (benzene, gasoline, kerosene, and camphene). Regulations stipulating the use of PERC in dry cleaning businesses and establishing reporting requirements on PERC's import, recycling, sale, and use, were introduced in 2003 and amended in 2011. The PERC regulations aimed to reduce the use of PERC in dry cleaning to 1,600 tonnes per year. Currently, drycleaners are using approximately 600 tonnes per year.
Canadian regulations passed in 2003 require the metal degreasing industry to decrease consumption of PERC and TCE by 65% between 2007-2021. This reduction level has been met. Currently, 88% fewer consumption units are issued annually compared to when the regulations were passed.
Canadian Production and Trade
Production and Trade
182 t of 'tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene)'
7,110 t of 'tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene)'
t = tonne
Inhalation is the most important route of occupational exposure to tetrachloroethylene.
CAREX Canada estimates that approximately 15,000 Canadians are exposed to PERC in their workplaces.The largest industrial groups exposed include printing and related support work, followed by dry cleaning and laundry services, and plastic product manufacturing. The largest occupational group exposed to tetrachloroethylene is printing press operators. Other exposed groups include dry cleaning and laundry workers, labourers in textile processing, and chemical technologists and technicians. Workers performing metal degreasing, producing fluorocarbons, and producing chemicals are also at risk of exposure to tetrachloroethylene.
The most important routes of exposure to tetrachloroethylene for the general public are ingesting contaminated water and inhaling ambient air. Improper disposal and releases from dry cleaning facilities and landfills can lead to groundwater contamination and potential environmental exposures.
Between 1994 and 2007, several provinces monitored water supplies for PERC; it was detected in no more than 4% of samples, and only one sample from all provinces contained concentrations greater than 10 micrograms/L. Tetrachloroethylene has also been found in samples of Canadian drinking water. CAREX Canada's environmental estimates indicate that PERC concentrations in Canadian drinking water do not result in an increased cancer risk (moderate data quality).
The general public may be exposed to PERC by frequenting or living near dry cleaning businesses or via contact with freshly dry cleaned clothing. There is evidence to suggest that family members of workers employed at dry cleaning facilities are more exposed to PERC than the general population. CAREX Canada estimates that PERC levels in outdoor air do not result in an increased risk of cancer (high data quality). However, our estimates indicate that PERC concentrations in indoor air do result in an increased risk of cancer (low to moderate data quality).
PERC has been detected in dairy products, meats, oils and fats, beverages, fruits and vegetables, bread, fish, shellfish, and marine mammals. CAREX Canada estimates that PERC levels in food and beverages do not result in an increased risk of cancer in Canada (very low data quality).
Searches of Environment Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) and the US Household Products Database yielded the following results on current potential for exposure to PERC in Canada:
NPRI and US Household Products Database
Substance name: 'Tetrachloroethylene'
Released into Environment
plastic product manufacturing, other chemical product manufacturing, waste treatment and disposal, textile and fabric finishing and fabric coating (28 facilities)
Sent to off-site recycling
US Household Products 2015
Auto brake cleaners (17), adhesives (8), lubricants (4), auto degreaser (3), auto cooling cleaner (1),engine dryer (1), silver polish (1), carpet stain removers (1), fabric protectant (1)
t = tonne
Our team has performed a detailed scan of exposure control resources and assembled a compilation of key publications and resources. These are organized by type of exposure (environmental or occupational) and by specificity (general or carcinogen-specific). Please visit our Exposures Reduction Resources page to view.
We also recommend exploring the Prevention Policies Directory, a freely-accessible online tool offering information on policies related to cancer and chronic disease prevention. Providing summaries of the policies and direct access to the policy documents, the Directory allows users to search by carcinogen, risk factor, jurisdiction, geographical location, and document type. Click here to learn more about policies specific to tetrachloroethylene in the Directory. For questions about this resource, please contact a member of the Prevention Team at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer at email@example.com.