EPA publishes new risk assessment for widespread industrial solvent

TCE contamination is a public health risk.

The industrial solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) just got an upgraded risk assessment from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which found that it causes kidney and liver cancer, lymphoma and other health problems.

As one of the most widespread groundwater contaminants in the nation, TCE may thus be more dangerous than previously thought.

The findings could lead to higher cleanup costs and a new federal drinking-water standard for the contaminant, which currently stands at 5 parts per billion in water and 1 microgram per cubic meter in the air.

According to EPA officials, the new risk assessment could affect cleanup strategies at 761 Superfund sites. TCE has been found in almost every state, but a lot of it is in California, including two Superfund sites on military bases Camp Pendleton and Edwards Air Force Base.

Underground plumes of TCE often lead to high ambient levels of the chemical in the air and affect people in their homes, at work or on the move. Soil vapor intrusion in homes above contaminated groundwater is a major concern, experts say.

What is TCE?

The chlorinated solvent was developed by chemists in the late 19th century and was widely used after the Second World War as a metal degreaser, as a chemical intermediate and extractant, and as a component of some consumer products.

TCE is designated as a Hazardous Air Pollutant, is a common groundwater contaminant, and has been found at more than 1,500 hazardous waste sites, according to EPA.

TCE can be released to indoor air from the use of TCE-containing consumer products, volatilization from water supplies, and vapor intrusion through walls and floors from contaminated soil and groundwater.

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Source: Los Angeles Times, EPA