EPA declares TCE a human carcinogen and initiates cleanups


This past week, the Environmental Protection Agency released its final health risk assessment regarding the widely used industrial solvent trichloroethylene (TCE), declaring it far more dangerous to humans than previously believed, causing various health problems including cancers of the liver and kidney, as well as lymphoma.

In EPA terminology, the final assessment "characterizes [TCE] as carcinogenic to humans and as a human noncancer health hazard."

The new risk assessment means that the federal drinking-water standard for TCE will be reevaluated, and will likely result in several new clean-up strategies in places ranging from the nation's aquifers to the several hundred Superfund sites.

That this risk assessment—which was first drafted in 2001—ever saw the light of day is surprising, considering the amount of resistance the EPA met in the form of other federal government agencies, including the US Department of Defense, the US Department of Energy, NASA, and officials at the Pentagon. Resistance typically came in the form of insistence on 'more convincing proof' that TCE was causing cancer.

The EPA risk assessment will lend credibility to those people who believe their cancer was caused by TCE pollution and have initiated litigation against corporate polluters.

TCE exposure can occur by bathing in contaminated water, breathing air by contaminated vapors, and the toxic compound has been found in every state in the Union.


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