Trichloroethylene Profile

Trichloroethylene Profile

General Information

Trichloroethylene is a clear liquid at room temperature with a sweet, chloroform-like odour.[1] Produced commercially since the 1920s, trichloroethylene has been used as a solvent and degreaser.[2] Trichloroethylene is related to another chlorinated solvent, tetrachloroethylene (also called perchloroethylene or PERC). Trichloroethylene may also be referred to as trichloroethene or TCE.[1] There are numerous other synonyms and product names; see the Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB) for more information.[3]

Trichloroethylene has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as Group 1, a known human carcinogen, with a well established link to kidney cancer.[2] Epidemiologic studies also found limited evidence for associations between TCE exposure and non-Hodgkin lymphoma and liver cancer.[2]

Additional adverse health effects associated with low to moderate inhalation exposure to trichloroethylene range from headaches and dizziness to nerve damage.[1] Acute exposures may damage the kidneys and liver, and cause arrhythmias.[1] Skin irritation following dermal exposure has also been reported.[1]

Regulations and Guidelines

Occupational exposure limits (OEL)[4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18]

Canadian JurisdictionsOEL (ppm)
Canada Labour Code10
25 [stel]
BC, MB, ON, NL, PE, NS10
25 [stel]
AB, NU, SK, NB, NT50
100 [stel]
200 [stel]
150 [stel]
Other JurisdictionOEL (ppm)
ACGIH 2020 TLV10
25 [stel]
ppm = parts per million
stel = short term exposure limit (15 min. maximum)
ACGIH = American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists
TLV = threshold limit value

Canadian environmental guidelines and standards*

Drinking Water Guidelines (Canada, BC, MB) and Standards (ON, QC)0.005 mg/L2005-2020
Saskatchewan’s Drinking Water Standards0.05 mg/L2020[24]
Ontario Ambient Air Quality CriteriaAnnual: 2.3 μg/m3
24 hour: 12 μg/m3
Ontario’s Air Pollution – Local Air Quality Regulation24-hour standard: 12 µg/m3;Prohibited discharge into the air if the concentration of trichloroethylene exceeds the standard2020[26]
Quebec’s Clean Air Regulation1 year limit: 0.4 µg/m3;Prohibited discharge into the air if the concentration of trichloroethylene exceeds the standard2011[27]
BC’s Contaminated Sites Regulation, BC Reg 375/96Sets soil standards for the protection of human health:
Agricultural and low density residential sites: 20 μg/g
Urban park and high density residential sites: 40 μg/g
Commercial sites: 150 μg/g
Industrial sites: 3,500 μg/g


Drinking water: 5 µg/L

Sets vapour standards for the protection of human health:
Agricultural, urban park, residential use standard: 2 μg/m3
Commercial use standard: 6 μg/m3
Industrial use standard: 20 μg/m3
Parkade use standard: 15 μg/m3
(Vapours derived from soil, sediment, or water)

μg/m3 = micrograms per cubic metre
μg/g = micrograms per gram
μg/L = micrograms per litre
*Standards are legislated and legally enforceable, while guidelines (including Ontario ambient air quality criteria) describe concentrations of contaminants in the environment (e.g. air, water) that are protective against adverse health, environmental, or aesthetic (e.g. odour) effects

Canadian agencies/organizations

Health CanadaDSL – low priority substance (already risk managed)2006[29]
CEPASchedule 1, paragraphs ‘a’ and ‘c’ (human health)1999[30]
CEPA 1999: Solvent
Degreasing Regulations
Users of >1,000 kg/yr of TCE for cold or vapour degreasing must comply with these regulations2003[31]
National Classification System for Contaminated SitesRank = “High hazard”2008[32]
Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release InventoryNPRI Part (Threshold Category): 1A, Reportable to NPRI if manufactured, processed, or otherwise used at quantities greater than: 10 tonnes2016[33]
DSL = domestic substance list
CEPA = Canadian Environmental Protection Act

Trichloroethylene was not included in other Canadian government guidelines, standards, or chemical listings reviewed.

Main Uses

Trichloroethylene is used primarily to degrease metals in automotive and metal industries.[34] Another important use is as a feedstock material to produce other chemicals, such as fluorinated hydrocarbons and polymers.[35] Trichloroethylene is also used to: produce adhesives and copolymers; clean electronic components; perform petroleum industry processes involving refining catalysts, paint removers, coatings, and vinyl resins; and act as a reagent/solvent in laboratory applications.[35]

As a solvent, trichloroethylene has been used in the past to extract natural fats and oils, spices, hops, and caffeine from food products.[36] It was also used as a dry cleaning solvent, but since the 1950s when tetrachloroethylene gained popularity, this use declined.[2] Use as a spot treatment in the textile industry, however, continued into the 1990s at least.[37]

Canadian Production and Trade

Production and trade

Export4 t of ‘trichloroethylene’2015[38]
Import455 t of ‘trichloroethylene’2015[38]
t = tonne

Environmental Exposures Overview

The primary route of exposure to trichloroethylene for the general public is inhaling indoor air.[34,36] Minor sources of exposure include food, drinking water, and outdoor air.[34] Trichloroethylene in indoor air likely comes from volatilized water sources (e.g. from showering), as well as from household products containing the solvent.[1] Elevated concentrations in indoor air may also occur in homes that are built above groundwater contaminated with trichloroethylene.[39] Trichloroethylene can be formed in groundwater when tetrachloroethylene breaks down.[34]

Recent surveys of trichloroethylene levels in Canadian food products are not available. However, given that trichloroethylene has been banned from food preparation since 1977, these levels are expected to be negligible.[34]

Most trichloroethylene that is used is expected to eventually enter the atmosphere.[34] Point sources that may create higher, localized environmental levels of trichloroethylene include metal degreasing operations, sewage treatment plants, textile mills, landfills, incinerators, and septic tanks.[34]

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 trichloroethylene in Canada:

NPRI and US Household Products Database

NPRI 2015[40]
Substance name: ‘Trichloroethylene’
Released into Environment46 tManufacturing of plastic, aerospace, metal, and chemical products, non-residential building construction, waste treatment and disposal, pulp and paper mills (12 facilities)
Disposed ofNone
Sent to off-site recycling7.4 t
US Household Products 2016[41]
Search TermQuantityProduct Type
‘Trichloroethylene’13Cleaners/degreasers, vehicle undercoating, adhesives, sealants, and toner enhancer
t = tonne

Occupational Exposures Overview

Inhalation and dermal contact are the most important routes of occupational exposure to trichloroethylene.[2]

CAREX Canada estimates that approximately 9,800 Canadians are exposed to trichloroethylene in their workplaces. The largest industrial groups exposed are metal manufacturing, followed by personal and household goods repair and maintenance. The largest occupational groups exposed are metal product machine operators, plating, metal spraying and related operators, and labourers in metal fabrication. All of these occupations involve metal degreasing; workers who degrease metals tend to be the most heavily exposed occupational group.[2]

Other important occupations outside the metal industry that may be exposed to trichloroethylene include tailors and dressmakers, upholsterers, and sewing machine operators.

For more information, see the occupational exposure estimate for trichloroethylene.


1. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Toxicological Profile for trichloroethylene (1997) (PDF)
2. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC monograph summary, Trichloroethylene, Volume 106 (2014) (PDF)
3. US National Library of Medicine. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (Search term: ‘Trichloroethylene’)
9. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Regulation 5,12 Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (2018)
10. Government of the Northwest Territories. Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, R-039-2015 (2020) (PDF)
12. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). Government of Nunavut’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, Nu Reg 003-2016 (2010)
14. Government of Prince Edward Island. Occupational Health and Safety Act Regulations Chapter 0-1 (2013) (PDF)
16. Government of Saskatchewan. The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, 1996 (2016) (PDF)
17. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). Yukon’s Occupational Health Regulations, O.I.C. 1986/164 (2020) (PDF)
18. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Annotated PELs (2020)
19. Government of Manitoba, Manitoba Water Stewardship. Manitoba Water Quality Standards, Objectives, and Guidelines (2011) (PDF)
20. Government of British Columbia. Source Drinking Water Quality Guidelines (2020) (PDF)
21. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standards, O Reg 169/03 (2020)
22. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). Regulation respecting the quality of drinking water, CQLR c Q-2, r 40 (2020)
25. Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. Ontario’s Ambient Air Quality Criteria (2019)
27. Government of Quebec. Clean Air Regulation, Q-2, r. 4.1 (2020)
28. Government of British Columbia. Contaminated Sites Regulation B.C. Reg. 375/96 (2019)
29. Health Canada. Prioritization of the DSL (2006)
30. Environment and Climate Change Canada. CEPA List of Toxic Substances (1999)
31. Ministry of Justice. CEPA 1999 Solvent Degreasing Regulations (2016)
32. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. National Classification System for Contaminated Sites (PDF) (2008)
35. Camford Information Services. CPI Product Profiles: Trichloroethylene
36. National Toxicology Program (NTP). 14th Report on Carcinogens for Trichloroethylene (2016) (PDF)
37. Bakke B, Stewart PA, Waters MA.“Uses of and exposure to trichloroethylene in US industry: A systematic literature review.”J Occup Environ Hyg 2007;4:375-390.
38. International Trade Centre. TradeMap (Free subscription required)
39. Archer NP, Bradford CM, Villanacci JF, Crain NE, Corsi RL, Chambers DM, Burk T, Blount BC.“Relationship between vapor intrusion and human exposure to trichloroethylene.”J Environ Sci Health A Tox Hazard Subst Environ Eng 2015;50(13):1360-1368.
40. Environment and Climate Change Canada. National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) Facility Search (Substance name: ‘Trichloroethylene’)
41. US Household Products Database (HPD). Household Products (Search term: ‘Trichloroethylene’)


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