How Are People Exposed to Trichloroethylene?

Course: WB1112
CE Original Date: November 8, 2007
CE Renewal Date: November 8, 2010
CE Expiration Date: November 8, 2012
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Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this section, you should be able to identify the primary route of exposure to TCE.


Occupational exposure to trichloroethylene may occur through inhalation and dermal contact at workplaces where TCE is produced or used.

The general population may be exposed to TCE via inhalation of ambient air and ingestion of food and drinking water.


The air pathway is the most common route of exposure to TCE, and the route that most commonly leads to illness. Exposure scenarios include inhalation of contaminated air:

  • because of vapors formed during bathing and laundering from using contaminated water at home,
  • due to accidental spills, and use of products in small, enclosed spaces,
  • due to deliberate abuse because TCE inhalation can cause euphoria,
  • during work in the same space as others working with TCE,
  • during work with TCE,
  • in areas where TCE is released to air and water by evaporation or fugitive emissions from industrial and from landfills, and
  • on worker’s skin and clothing.

Ingestion—a minor pathway of exposure—occurs through

  • incidental addition of TCE during food production
  • swallowing food or drinking water contaminated with TCE

Dermal contact is a common route of TCE exposure in workplace and among the general public. However, dermal contact is less important since it is not likely to cause toxic effects under normal conditions.

Key Points

The main route of occupational exposure to TCE is by inhalation.

Page last reviewed: December 10, 2013