What is PCE?
Tetrachlorethylene, also known as tetrachloroethylene, perchloroethylene, PCE, or “perc,” is a commonly used solvent (a substance, usually a liquid, capable of dissolving another substance). It has been in commercial use since the early 1900s:
- A common use of tetrachlorethylene is to dry clean fabrics.
- Tetrachlorethylene is also used to clean and degrease metals.
- It has also been used in water repellants, paint removers, printing inks, glues, sealants, polishes, and lubricants. Tetrachlorethylene is also used to make other chemicals.
Regulation of PCE:
Several government agencies regulate tetrachlorethylene levels and exposures.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency responsible for health and safety regulations in most workplaces, limits workplace exposure to tetrachlorethylene in the air to 100 ppm (parts per million) during an average 8-hour workday and a maximum of 300 ppm over any 5-minute period.
The EPA limits concentrations of tetrachlorethylene in drinking water to 0.005 mg/L or 5 parts per billion (ppb), with an ultimate goal of 0 ppb. Likewise, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set a limit of 5 ppb in bottled water.
High concentrations of tetrachloroethylene (particularly in closed, poorly ventilated areas) can cause dizziness, headache, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness, and death.
Irritation may result from repeated or extended skin contact with it. These symptoms occur almost entirely in work (or hobby) environments when people have been accidentally exposed to high concentrations or have intentionally used tetrachloroethylene to get a “high.”
In industry, most workers are exposed to levels lower than those causing obvious nervous system effects. The health effects of breathing in air or drinking water with low levels of tetrachloroethylene are not known.
Results from some studies suggest that women who work in dry cleaning industries where exposures to tetrachloroethylene can be quite high may have more menstrual problems and spontaneous abortions than women who are not exposed. However, it is not known if tetrachloroethylene was responsible for these problems because other possible causes were not considered.
Results of animal studies, conducted with amounts much higher than those that most people are exposed to, show that tetrachloroethylene can cause liver and kidney damage. Exposure to very high levels of tetrachloroethylene can be toxic to the unborn pups of pregnant rats and mice. Changes in behavior were observed in the offspring of rats that breathed high levels of the chemical while they were pregnant.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that tetrachloroethylene may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen. Tetrachloroethylene has been shown to cause liver tumors in mice and kidney tumors in male rats.
Public water systems must check the water supply regularly for levels of tetrachlorethylene and other possible contaminants. If routine monitoring finds that the tetrachlorethylene level is too high, the water supplier must take steps to reduce it to levels within normal limits. The supplier must also notify its customers within 30 days after finding the violation.