Volatile Organic Compounds – The Insensible Assailants

May 17, 2021

Environmental Enlightenment #325

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. The only health condition that kills more people is heart disease. In 2020, the National Cancer Institute estimated that 1,806,590 new cases would be diagnosed in the U.S. and 606,520 die from the disease. (https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics). It translates to 5.5 new cases and 1.8 deaths per thousand.

PCE has been detected in hundreds of hazardous waste sites, in groundwater, in surface water as well as in air, soil, food, and breast milk. In the environment, it  slowly breaks down to other carcinogenic and/or harshly toxic substances such as trichloroethylene (aka TCE), dichloroethylene (DCE), and vinyl chloride (VC).

Trichloroethylene, also known as trichloroethene, TCE, trichlor, Trike, Tricky and tri, is a highly toxic central nervous system depressant. Workplace exposure is associated with toxic effects in the liver and kidney. It is carcinogenic in animals, reasonably anticipated human carcinogen, and a potential kidney carcinogen. A six-fold increase in Parkinson’s risk is associated with TCE workplace exposure.

PCE and TCE have historically been in use as degreasing agents in metal forming and finishing operations, and in various operations that required degreasing of metal parts. Carburetor cleaners are one example.

PCE and TCE (mostly PCE) have long been used as cleaning agents within the dry-cleaning industry.

Their physical characteristics enable them to infiltrate concrete slabs and underlying soil with ease and reach groundwater fast.

A few ounces reaching groundwater could present a cleanup cost in the many hundreds of thousands of dollars.


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