Trichloroethylene, commonly referred to as TCE, has recently experienced a sudden increase in price. Though still widely used in the U.S. for various industrial applications, the solvent has been heavily regulated and even banned in certain countries.
With the increase in prices and trichloroethylene regulations, this solvent is decreasing in popularity.
Some of the commercial and industrial uses of the solvent are listed below:
- About 80% of TCE usage is for the degreasing of metal equipment and machinery. The solvent is easily the most popular choice for vapor degreasing, as its desirable properties work effectively with vapor cleaning.
- The solvent is used in the production of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants
- TCE is used as an extraction solvent in the textile industry, mainly for the removal of fats and oils from certain types of fabrics.
- It is added to various consumer products, such as cleaning wipes, spot removers, paint removers, adhesives, lubricants, carpet cleaners, and typewriter correction fluids.
Why Have There Been Heavy Trichloroethylene Regulation?
Certain regulations, particularly for chemical usage, are put in place by the government to:
- Ensure the protection of human health
- Prevent negative health effects
- Prevent further pollution of air and water
Though trichloroethylene is not a serious air pollutant or ozone depletion contributor, TCE has been shown to contaminate groundwater and drinking water sources for long periods of time, as a result of industrial storage tank leaks and improper chemical waste disposal.
On top of contaminating the environment and affecting unsuspecting people, the solvent has long been known to expose workers to potentially serious health effects:
- TCE is a well-known carcinogen that can cause various types of cancer.
- Moderate exposure levels have been shown to potentially cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, confusion, fatigue, and respiratory irritation.
- High exposure levels can potentially cause damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and/or liver. These levels may also cause permanent cardiac issues, endocrine changes, unconsciousness, coma, or even death.
Are Trichloroethylene Regulation Effective?
Though there are regulations and exposure limits in place to prevent adverse health effects to workers, they have not been the most effective preventative measures. Trichloroethylene continues to contaminate groundwater, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has even recognized that most of their exposure limits are outdated and have not adequately prevented all negative health effects.
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