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Reported health effects linked with trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride (VC) exposure



Reported health effects linked with TCE, PCE, benzene, and VC exposure in people

Q: What have other studies found about the persistent health effects of TCE, PCE, benzene, and VC?

A: The effects of exposure to any chemical depend on—

  • When you are exposed (during pregnancy, in infancy),
  • How much you are exposed to,
  • How long you are exposed,
  • How you are exposed (breathing, drinking), and
  • What your personal traits and habits are.

Therefore, not everyone who is exposed to TCE, PCE, benzene, or VC will develop a health problem.

A limited number of studies have been done that looked at the health problems in children and adults related to drinking water contaminated with TCE and PCE. Only one study (in New Jersey) has looked at the health problems in children related to drinking water contaminated with benzene or VC. However, too few children were exposed to benzene or VC in that study to reach any conclusion about health problems. No studies have looked at the health problems in adults related to drinking water contaminated with benzene and VC.

A much larger number of studies have looked at health problems among workers exposed to TCE, PCE, benzene, and VC. Below is a list of the types of health outcomes that have been found to be linked to TCE, PCE, benzene, and VC. The numbers in parentheses indicate the reference for the study. All of the references are listed at the end.

Reported health problems in children who were exposed in the womb from their mother drinking water contaminated with TCE and/or PCE include—

  • Leukemia (1-3)
  • Small for gestational age (4-6)
  • Low birth weight (6-8)
  • Fetal death (4, 7, 9)
  • Major heart defects (7, 10)
  • Neural tube defects (4, 7, 9)
  • Oral cleft defects (including cleft lip) (4, 7, 9)
  • Chonal atresia (nasal passages blocked with bone or tissue) (4, 9)
  • Eye defects (4, 9)

Reported health problems in children who were exposed in the womb from their mother working with TCE and/or PCE include—

  • Low birth weight (11)
  • Miscarriage (12, 13)
  • Major malformations (11)

Reported health problems in people of all ages from drinking water contaminated with TCE and/or PCE include—

  • Non-Hodgkins lymphoma (1, 12)
  • Leukemia (1, 17)
  • Rectal cancer (14)
  • Bladder cancer (17)
  • Breast cancer (18)
  • Lung cancer (14)
  • Neurobehavioral performance deficits (i.e., delayed recall and deficits in visual perception), decreased blink reflex, and mood effects (i.e., confusion, depression and tension) (33, 34)

Reported health problems in people of all ages from working with TCE and/or PCE include—

  • Hodgkins disease (15)
  • Non-Hodgkins lymphoma (15)
  • Cervical cancer (15)
  • Esophageal cancer (15, 30, 31)
  • Impaired immune system function (35)
  • Kidney cancer (15)
  • Liver/biliary cancer (15)
  • Ovarian cancer (15)
  • Parkinson’s disease (36)
  • Prostate cancer (15)
  • End-stage renal disease (29)
  • Neurological effects (delayed reaction times problems with short-term memory, visual perception, attention, and color vision) (13)
  • Severe, generalized hypersensitivity skin disorder (an autoimmune-related disease) (32)
  • Scleroderma (32)

Reported health problems in people of all ages from working with benzene include—

  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (19, 20)
  • Leukemias  (21, 22)
  • Multiple myeloma (23)
  • Aplastic anemia (24)
  • Miscarriage (24)

Reported health problems in people of all ages from working with VC include—

  • Liver cancer (25, 26)
  • Soft tissue sarcoma (26)
  • Brain cancer (26)
  • Lung cancer (27)
  • Liver cirrhosis (28)

Workers are exposed to much higher levels of TCE, PCE, benzene, and VC than are people who drink contaminated water.  Therefore, the health problems seen in people who worked with TCE, PCE, benzene, and VC may not be seen in people who drank contaminated water.

For health problems not listed in the tables—

  • Studies, so far, do not support a link with the particular health outcome and TCE, PCE, benzene, or VC exposure, or
  • There is not enough information to see if the outcome is linked to TCE, PCE, benzene, or VC exposure.

Q: How are studies in animals and people different?

A: In studies done in laboratory animals, such as mice, the animals are exposed to much higher levels of chemicals than are people. Animals are also exposed in different ways than are people.  In animal studies, we know the exact types and levels of chemicals the animals are exposed to.  We can’t tell for certain the exact levels people are exposed to.  Also, people are usually exposed to multiple chemicals.  Medications, alcohol intake, and lifestyle factors also play a role in how these chemicals affect people. 

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Reported health effects linked with TCE, PCE, benzene, and VC exposure in animals


Q: What health effects are seen in animal studies of PCE exposure?

A: Results of animal studies showed that PCE can cause liver and kidney damage. The studies also showed that PCE can cause liver cancer in animals.  Exposure at very high levels of PCE can be harmful to the unborn pups of pregnant rats and mice.  Changes in behavior were seen in the offspring of rats that breathed high levels of the chemical while they were pregnant.  Behavioral changes included being hyperactive.  Various neurological problems were seen in both the mother and offspring.  Neurological problems included being unable to coordinate muscles and decreased movement.

Q: What health effects are seen in animals from TCE exposure?

A: Results of animal studies showed that TCE may cause liver, kidney, or lung cancer. The studies also showed that TCE can cause neurological problems, autoimmune effects and autoimmune diseases including lupus, and liver and kidney damage in animals. Neurological problems included being unable to coordinate muscles and decreased movement.

Q: What health effects are seen in animals from benzene exposure?

A: Results of animal studies showed that benzene may cause Zymbal-gland (ear canal) carcinoma, oral-cavity tumors, skin cancer, lymphoma, lung tumors, ovarian tumors, and mammary-gland carcinoma.

Q: What health effects are seen in animals from VC exposure?

A: Results of animal studies showed that VC may cause tumors in the liver, lung,
mammary-gland, Zymbal-gland (ear canal), kidney, skin, and stomach, and angiosarcoma (blood-vessel tumors) and adenocarcinoma (tumors of the linings of organs) at various sites. VC also caused genetic damage including mutations, DNA damage, chromosome damage or loss, chromosomal aberrations (changes in chromosome structure or number), and sister chromatid exchange.

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Reported health effects linked with TCE, PCE, benzene, and VC exposure in both people and animals


Q: What health effects are seen in both people and animals from TCE, PCE, benzene, and VC exposure?

A: When there are studies in people, results of animal studies are used to help support any observed links.  Results of animal studies are used when there are no studies in people.  Reported health effects seen in both people and animals include—

  • Lung cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Breast cancer
  • Neurological effects

Some health effects seen in people cannot be tested for in animals.

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References


1. Cohn P, Klotz J, Bove F, Fagliano J. 1994. Drinking water contamination and the incidence of leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Environ Health Perspect 102:556-61.

2. Costas K, Knorr RS, Condon SK. 2002. A case-control study of childhood leukemia in Woburn, Massachusetts: the relationship between leukemia incidence and exposure to public drinking water. Sci Total Environ 300:23-35.

3. New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. 2003. Case-control study of childhood cancers in Dover Township (Ocean Country), New Jersey. Trenton, New Jersey: New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.

4. Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Massachusetts Health Research Institute. 1996. Final report of the Woburn environmental and birth study. Boston, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

5. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 1998. Volatile organic compounds in drinking water and adverse pregnancy outcomes: U.S. Marine Corps Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services.

6. Sonnenfeld N, Hertz-Picciotto I, Kaye WE.  2001. Tetrachloroethylene in drinking water and birth outcomes at the US Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  Am J Epidemiol 154(10):902-8.

7. Bove FJ, Fulcomer MC, Klotz JB, Esmart J, et al.  1995. Public drinking water contamination and birth outcomes. Am J Epidemiol 141:850-62.

8. Rodenbeck SE, Sanderson LM, Rene A. 2000. Maternal exposure to trichloroethylene in drinking water and birthweight outcomes. Arch Environ Health 55:188–194.

9. Bove F, Shim Y, Zeitz P.  2002. Drinking water contaminants and adverse pregnancy outcomes: a Review.  Environ Health Perspect 110(S): 61-73.

10. Goldberg SJ, Lebowitz MD, Graver EJ, Hicks S. 1990. An association of human congenital cardiac malformations and drinking water contaminants. J Am Coll Cardiol 16:155–164.

11. Khattak S, K-Moghtader G, McMartin K, Barrera M, et al.   1999. Pregnancy outcome following gestational exposure to organic solvents: a prospective controlled study.  JAMA 281(12): 1106-09.

12. Pesticide and Environmental Toxicology Section, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency.  1999. Public health goal for trichloroethylene in drinking water. Sacramento, California.

13. Pesticide and Environmental Toxicology Section, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency.  2001. Public health goal for tetrachloroethylene in  drinking water.  Sacramento, California.

14. Paulu C, Aschengrau A, Ozonoff D. 1999. Tetrachloroethylene-contaminated drinking water in Massachusetts and the risk of colon-rectum, lung, and other cancers. Environ Health Perspect 107(4):265-71.

15. Wartenberg D, Reyner D, Scott CS.  2000. Trichloroethylene and cancer: epidemiologic evidence.  Environ Health Perspect 108(S2):161-176.

16. Morgan RW, Kelsh MA, Zhao K, Heringer S. 1998. Mortality of aerospace workers exposed to trichloroethylene. Epidemiology 9(4):424-31.

17. Aschengrau A, Ozonoff D, Paulu C, Coogan P, Vezina R, Heeren T, Zhang Y. 1993. Cancer risk and tetrachloroethylene-contaminated drinking water in Massachusetts. Arch Environ Health. 48:284-92.

18. Aschengrau A, Rogers S, Ozonoff D. 2003. Perchloroethylene-contaminated drinking water and the risk of breast cancer: additional results from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA. Environ Health Perspect 111(2):167-73.

19. Steinmaus C, Smith AH, Jones RM, Smith MT. 2008. Meta-analysis of benzene exposure and non-Hodgkin’s  lymphoma: Biases could mask an important association. Occup. Environ. Med. 65(6):371-8.

20. Mehlman MA. 2006. Causal relationship between non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and exposure to benzene and benzene-containing solvents. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1076:120–128.

21. Rinsky RA, Hornung RW, Silver SR, Tseng CY. 2002. Benzene exposure and hematopoietic mortality: A long-term epidemiologic risk assessment. Am J Ind Med. 42(6):474-80

22. Glass DC, Gray CN, Jolley DJ, Gibbons C, et al. 2003. Leukemia risk associated with low-level benzene exposure. Epidemiology. 14(5):569-577.

23. Infante PF. 2006. Benzene Exposure and Multiple Myeloma: A Detailed Meta-analysis of Benzene Cohort Studies. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1076:90–109.

24. Khan HA. 2007. Short Review: Benzene's toxicity: a consolidated short review of human and animal studies. Hum Exp Toxicol. 26; 677-685.

25. Bosetti C, La Vecchia C, Lipworth L, McLaughlin JK. 2003. Occupational exposure to vinyl chloride and cancer risk: a review of the epidemiologic literature. European Journal of Cancer Prevention. 12:427–430.

26. Boffetta P, Matisane L, Mundt KA, Dell LD. 2003. Meta-analysis of studies of occupational exposure to vinyl chloride in relation to cancer mortality. Scand J Work Environ Health. 29:220-229.

27. Scelo G, Constantinescu V, Csiki I, Zaridze D, et al. 2004. Occupational exposure to vinyl chloride, acrylonitrile and styrene and lung cancer risk (Europe). Cancer Causes Control. 15:445-452.

28. Grosse Y, Baan R, Straif K, Secretan B, et al. 2007. Carcinogenicity of 1,3-butadiene, ethylene oxide, vinyl chloride, vinyl fluoride, and vinyl bromide. Oncology: The Lancet. 8:679-680.

29. Calvert GM, Ruder AM, Petersen MR. 2010. Mortality and end-stage renal disease incidence among dry cleaning workers. OEM [Epub ahead of print, Dec 16, 2010]

30. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program 2005. Report on Carcinogens, Eleventh Edition.

31. Mundt KA, Birk T, Burch MT. 2003. Critical review of the epidemiological literature on occupational exposure to perchloroethylene and cancer. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 76:473-91.

32. Cooper GS, Makris SL, Nietert PJ, Jinot J. 2009. Evidence of Autoimmune-Related Effects of Trichloroethylene Exposure from Studies in Mice and Humans. Environ Health Perspect 117:696–702.

33. Reif JS, Burch JB, Nuckols JR, Metzgar L, et al. 2003. Neurobehavioral effects of exposure to trichloroethylene through a municipal water supply. Environ Res 93:248-258

34. Feldman RG, Chirico-Post J, Proctor SP. 1988. Blink reflex latency after exposure to trichloroethylene in well water. Environ Health 43: 143-148.

35. Chiu WA, Jinot J, Scott CS, Makris SL et al. 2013. Human health effects of trichloroethylene: key findings and scientific issues. Environ Health Perspect 121:303-311.

36. Zaheer F, Slevin JT. 2011. Trichloroethylene and Parkinson Disease. Neurol Clin 29:657-665

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You can find more information in:


  • Adams C, Keil D, Meyers K, et al.  2003.  Lifetime exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) modulates immune function.  Toxicologist 72(S-1):375.
  • Altmann L, Welge P, Mensing T, et al.  2002.  Chronic exposure to trichloroethylene affects neuronal plasticity in rat hippocampal slices. Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology 12(3):157-67.
  •  Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).  1997.  Toxicological profile for Trichloroethylene.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, ATSDR.
  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).  1997.  Toxicological profile for Tetrachloroethylene.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, ATSDR.
  • Berger T, Horner CM.  2003.  In vivo exposure of female rats to toxicants may affect oocyte quality.  Reprod Toxicol 17(3):273-81. 
  • Bushnell PJ, Oshiro WM.  2000.  Behavioral components of tolerance to repeated inhalation of trichloroethylene (TCE) in rats.  Neurotoxicol Teratol 22(2):221-9.
  • Crofton KM, Zhao X.  1997.  The ototoxicity of trichloroethylene: extrapolation and relevance of high-concentration, short-duration animal exposure data.  Fundam Appl Toxicol 38(1):101-6.
  • Ebrahim AS, Babakrishnan K, Sakthisekaran D.  1996.  Perchloroethylene-induced alterations in glucose metabolism and their prevention by 2-deoxy-D-glucose and vitamin E in mice. J Appl Toxicol 16(4):339-48.
  • Fisher JW, Channel SR, Eggers JS, et al.  2001.  Trichloroethylene, trichloroacetic acid, and dichloroacetic acid: do they affect fetal rat heart development?  Int J Toxicol  20(5):257-67.
  • Forkert P, Lash L, Nadeau V, et al.  2002.  Metabolism and toxicity of trichloroethylene in epididymis and testis.  Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 182(3):244.
  • Griffin JM, Blossom SJ, Jackson SK, et al.  2000.  Trichloroethylene accelerates an autoimmune response by Th1 T cell activation in MRL +/+ mice.  Immunopharmacology 46:123-37.
  • Griffin JM, Gilbert KM, Lamps LW, et al.  2000.  CD4(+) T-cell activation and induction of autoimmune hepatitis following trichloroethylene treatment in MRL+/+ mice.  Toxicol Sci 57(2):345-52.
  • Johnson PD, Goldberg SJ, Mays MZ, et al.  2003.  Threshold of trichloroethylene contamination in maternal drinking waters affecting fetal heart development in the rat.  Environ Health Perspect 111:289-92.
  • Kumar P, Prasad A, Saxena DK, et al.  2000.  Fertility and general reproduction studies in trichloroethylene exposed rats.  Indian Journal of Occupation Health  43(3):117-26.  
  • Kumar P, Prasad AK, Maji BK, et al. 2001.  Hepatotoxic alterations induced by inhalation of trichloroethylene (TCE) in rats.  Biomed Environ Sci 14(4): 325-32.
  • Mattsson JL, Albee RR, Yano BL, et al. 1998.  Neurotoxicologic examination of rats exposed to 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene) vapor for 13 weeks.  Neurotoxicol Teratol 20(1):83-98.
  • Mensing T, Welge P, Voss B, et al. 2002.  Renal toxicity after chronic inhalation exposure of rats to trichloroethylene. Toxicol Lett 128(1-3):243-7.
  • Muijser H, Lammers JH, Kullig BM.  2000.  Effects of exposure to trichloroethylene and noise on hearing in rats.  Noise Health 2(6): 57-66. 
  • Potter CL, Chang LW, Deangelo AB, et al.  1996.  Effects of four trihalomethanes on DNA strand breaks, renal hyaline droplet formation and serum testosterone in male F-344 rats.  Cancer Letters 106:235-42.
  • Warren DA, Graeter LJ, Channel SR, et al.  2002.  Trichloroethylene, trichloroacetic acid and dichloroacetic acid: does in utero exposure to these chemicals affect eye development?  Toxicologist 66(1-S):24.
  • Waseem M, Ali M, Dogra S, et al.  2001.  Toxicity of trichloroethylene following inhalation and drinking contaminated water.  J Appl Toxicol  21(6):441-4.
  • Xu H, Wade MG, Anupriwan A, et al.  2003.  Inhalation exposure to trichloroethylene of male mice causes impaired sperm function but has minimal effects on testis function.  Biol Reprod 2003;68(Suppl 1):181-2.
  • Zablotny CL Carney EW Dugard PH.  2002.  Evaluation of trichloroethylene in a rat inhalation developmental toxicity study. Toxicologist 66(1-S):237/

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