How can I be exposed to TCE?

TCE that is spilled or disposed of on soil or that leaks from storage tanks can contaminate the soil around it.  It evaporates less easily from soil and may stick to soil particles and remain for a long time. TCE in soil may also leak into groundwater.

TCE that is spilled on the ground can travel down through the soil into groundwater.  It can also leach or seep out of poorly constructed landfills and disposal sites. TCE can remain in groundwater for a long time. It can also be discharged in industrial wastewaters. TCE evaporates quickly from these surface waters but some may stick to particles and settle in the sediment.

Most TCE that’s released into the atmosphere is from degreasing operations. People who live closer to industries using TCE have higher concentrations of TCE in their air than those who live further away. Workers in factories where TCE is manufactured or used are exposed to higher concentrations than the general public. In the past, open disposal of TCE also released TCE vapors into the air. TCE evaporates into the air when consumer products containing TCE are used in the home. TCE in contaminated soil, or more likely contaminated groundwater, can form a vapor that migrates through the soil into the home. This exposure route is known as vapor intrusion. Vapors can enter the home through cracks in the foundation, the sump pump, or through openings where utility lines enter the home.

TCE does not build up in plants and animals. It evaporates quickly from water into the air, so vegetables watered with well water containing TCE should be safe to eat.

Page last reviewed: March 9, 2017