Trichloroethylene (TCE)

What is trichloroethylene?

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a colorless, nonflammable liquid with a characteristic chloroform-like odor. It is practically insoluble in water and evaporates quickly. The most important use of trichloroethylene is the degreasing of metal parts in the automotive and metal industries. Trichloroethylene is used in many consumer products. Examples include typewriter correction fluids, paint removers, paint strippers, adhesives, spot removers, cleaning fluids for rugs, and metal cleaners.

Where could I be exposed to trichloroethylene?

Most exposures to trichloroethylene occur in the workplace through breathing vapors or direct contact with the liquid. Exposure of the general public occurs mainly through breathing industrial emissions, drinking, swimming, or showering in water that has been contaminated, or using consumer products containing trichloroethylene. Low levels of trichloroethylene ranging from 0.25 to 0.31 parts per billion (ppb) have been detected in many drinking water samples throughout the United States. Trichloroethylene has been detected in small concentrations in many processed foods as a result of its use in cleaning equipment. A monitoring study conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found the following trichloroethylene concentrations in various food items: chocolate chip cookies, 2.9 ppb; plain granola, 8 ppb; cheddar cheese, 3.1 ppb; peanut butter, 1.7 ppb; butter, 12 ppb; evaporated milk, 1.7 ppb; and cooked pork sausage, 5.1 ppb.

What are the health risks of trichloroethylene?

Inhaling trichloroethylene vapors at very high concentrations may cause irregular heartbeat, heart functions failure, unconsciousness, and death. Inhaling moderate amounts in the air may cause headaches, dizziness, poor coordination, difficulty concentrating, facial numbness, and lung irritation. Consumption of alcohol and exposure to trichloroethylene at the same time can result in “degreaser’s flush”, a temporary redness and itching of the back, neck, and face. Long term exposures at high concentrations may cause liver and kidney damage and changes in heartbeat. Skin contact with trichloroethylene can cause skin rashes.

How likely is trichloroethylene to cause cancer?

Trichloroethylene is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the EPA and IARC (IARC), which means that it is carcinogenic to humans.

How can I protect myself from trichloroethylene?

People who work with trichloroethylene are at greatest risk of exposure. If you work somewhere that uses trichloroethylene, follow safe work practices and use appropriate personal protective equipment. For the general public, exposure can be reduced by avoiding products containing trichloroethylene. This includes some paint removers, tool cleaning solutions, carpet cleaners, and spray adhesives.

Where can I obtain further information?

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has a fact sheet at

If you need further information regarding the health effects of trichloroethylene, please contact the Virginia Department of Health, Office of Environmental Health Services, 109 Governor Street, 5th Floor, Richmond, VA 23219, or call (804) 864-8182.

You may also call your local health department if you have questions or concerns. A directory of local health departments is located at


Updated 2020