Recently, a reader asked:
What about service members like me? I’m trying to get tested for PCE and TCE. What can I do?
That’s a good question. Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done unless your exposure is immediate. If the exposure happened years (or decades) ago, such as the case with Camp Lejeune victims, then it is likely that it will be very hard to locate traces of the chemicals in your system today. However, that doesn’t mean that damage from exposure doesn’t exist.
The CDC has some good basic information on chemicals such as TCE, PCE and others that you can review. In sum, here are a few key points from their website regarding TCE:
- Tetrachloroethylene itself may be measured in breath, blood, urine, breast milk, and adipose tissue; its metabolites can be measured in blood and urine.
- Significant exposure to tetrachloroethylene may result in elevated values from renal and liver function tests.
- TCE can be detected in the breath and urine up to 16 hours after exposure; metabolites can persist for a week or more.
- Urinary metabolites are trichloroethanol and trichloroacetic acid.
- Urinary proteins, liver function tests, a serum creatinine test, and continuous cardiac monitoring should be considered for persons acutely exposed to high levels of TCE.
As you can see, most of the tests involved are most helpful for detecting immediate exposure.
TCE does not easily break down or degrade in soils and groundwater, remaining in the environment for a long time. Here are some TCE exposure pathways (from a Wisconsin state government TCE FAQ Sheet):
- Breathing: Workers in degreasing operations have the highest risk of exposure to TCE. People who live near factories that use TCE may also be exposed to low TCE levels in the air. In homes, people who use TCE as a solvent (such as typewriter correction fluid or paint remover) have exposure; however, the extent of the actual exposure depends on the length of time and the amount of the product used. Showering in water highly contaminated with TCE can also be a source of exposure.
- Touching: TCE can be absorbed through the skin. Therefore, people who use the compound without solvent-resistant gloves may be exposed.
- Drinking/Eating: TCE released onto soil can enter groundwater. Therefore, people who drink water from wells located near TCE disposal sites may be exposed. The amount of TCE in commercial products is much more concentrated than in contaminated drinking water. Plants grown on contaminated soil do not accumulate TCE. TCE has been detected at very low levels in many processed foods as a result of its use in equipment-cleaning.
Note: Length of exposure to a chemical is also critical, along with the amount of chemical exposure at the time, plus the pathway of entry.
TCE cannot be measured in people when it results from long-term, low-level exposure. Those suspecting TCE exposure over a long period of time should contact their physician. Blood chemistry analyses which include liver and kidney function tests may be helpful.
- CDC – Tetrachloroethylene Toxicity Clinical Assessment – Laboratory Tests
- CDC – Trichloroethylene Toxicity – What Laboratory Tests Can Assist in the Evaluation of Patients Exposed to Trichloroethylene?
- Wisconsin State TCE FAQs Document 2013