Reported health effects linked with trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride (VC) exposure
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—
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—
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.
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.
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
- Breast cancer
- Neurological effects
Some health effects seen in people cannot be tested for in animals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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- Page last reviewed: January 16, 2014
- Page last updated: January 16, 2014
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