Trichloroethylene is used mainly as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts and as an industrial solvent. It is also an ingredient in adhesives, paint removers, typewriter correction fluids and spot removers. Industrial abbreviations include TCE, trichlor, Trike, Tricky and tri. It has been sold under a variety of trade names. Under the trade names Trimar and Trilene, trichloroethylene was used as a volatile anesthetic and as an inhaled obstetrical analgesic in millions of patients.
Trichloroethylene is not thought to occur naturally in the environment. However, it has been found in underground water sources and many surface waters as a result of the manufacture, use, and disposal of the chemical. Primary methods of exposure include:
- Breathing air in and around the home which has been contaminated with trichloroethylene vapors from shower water or household products such as spot removers and typewriter correction fluid.
- Drinking, swimming, or showering in water that has been contaminated with trichloroethylene.
- Contact with soil contaminated with trichloroethylene, such as near a hazardous waste site.
- Contact with the skin or breathing contaminated air while manufacturing trichloroethylene or using it at work to wash paint or grease from skin or equipment.
- It has been used to extract vegetable oils from plant materials such as soy, coconut, and palm.
- Also has been used in coffee decaffeination and the preparation of flavoring extracts from hops and spices.
Breathing small amounts may cause headaches, lung irritation, dizziness, poor coordination, and difficulty concentrating. Breathing large amounts of trichloroethylene may cause impaired heart function, unconsciousness, and death. Breathing it for long periods of time may cause nerve, kidney, and liver damage.
Drinking large amounts of trichloroethylene may cause nausea, liver damage, unconsciousness, impaired heart function, or death. Drinking small amounts of trichloroethylene for long periods may cause liver and kidney damage, impaired immune system function, and impaired fetal development in pregnant women, although the extent of some of these effects is not yet clear.
Skin contact with trichloroethylene for short periods may cause skin rashes.