What Are the Primary Routes of Exposure to Trichloroethylene?


Course: SS4561
CE Original Date: 08/05/2022
CE Expiration Date: 08/05/2024
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Learning Objective 2

After completing this section, you will be able to describe routes of exposure.


Occupational exposure to TCE can occur through inhalation and skin contact at workplaces where TCE is produced or used.

The general population might be exposed to TCE via inhalation of indoor and outdoor air, ingestion of food and or contaminated drinking water, or dermal exposure to contaminated water.


Inhalation is the primary route of exposure to TCE, as a result of TCE’s volatility. Inhalation is the route that most commonly leads to acute illness. Some exposure scenarios in which TCE-contaminated air might be inhaled include the following:

  • Bathing and other household water uses, such as dishwashing, clothes washing, and toilet use, through release of vapors
  • Accidental spills, and use of TCE-containing products in small, enclosed spaces
  • Deliberate abuse (e.g., TCE-induced euphoria)
  • Working in the same space as others who are using TCE
  • Work and hobby activities involving TCE and TCE-containing products
  • Spending time in areas where TCE is released to air and water by evaporation or fugitive emissions from industrial activities and from landfills
  • From worker’s skin and clothing

Ingestion is typically a minor pathway of exposure because TCE is not normally present at high levels in food or water. Ingestion of TCE might occur through

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

Skin contact is a common route of TCE exposure in the workplace and among the general public if they are bathing in TCE-contaminated water. Skin contact is less important in a clinical setting because it is not likely to cause toxic effects under normal conditions. It might, however, contribute to overall exposure and chronic risk.

Key Point
  • Inhalation is the primary route of exposure to TCE and the route that most commonly leads to acute illness.
Section 1.3: Question #1

To review relevant content, see “Inhalation” in Section 1.3.

Page last reviewed: September 9, 2022