TCE is widely used as a metal degreasing agent.

If your work exposes you to solvents such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PERC), you could be at a higher risk for developing Parkinson’s disease, a new research report found.

A NIH (National Institutes of Health)-funded study looked at twins, where one of the pair had developed the disorder and assessed their exposure to six chemicals previously linked to Parkinson’s disease.

The researchers concluded that two common chemical solvents, trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PERC), are significantly linked to development of this disease.

The study appears in the Nov. 14, 2011 issue of Annals of Neurology.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder caused by the loss of brain cells that produce a molecule called dopamine.

Health symptoms of Parkinson’s include tremor, stiffness, slowed movement and impaired balance, and as these symptoms progress, patients may also develop difficulty walking, speaking or completing other activities of daily living.

Genes play a role in Parkinson’s disease, but fewer than 10 percent of cases are due to a single gene mutation, and not all people with these mutations develop Parkinson’s, suggesting that environmental factors also contribute to the likelihood of developing the disease.

About the chemicals

TCE is a widely used metal degreaser (it also used to be a general anesthetic and coffee decaffeinating agent), while PERC is more commonly known as the dry cleaning fluid and often used in garment dry cleaning operations.

The occupations with the strongest link for TCE were the industrial machinery repairer and industrial worker categories.

TCE has also been linked to Parkinson’s by other research groups. Researchers at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, and the Kangwon National University in South Korea have reported an association between TCE and Parkinson’s in highly-exposed industrial workers, and have also demonstrated that TCE causes neurodegeneration in animal models.

About the study

The study involved 99 pairs of twins because they are so genetically similar and help in identifying environmental influences in disease.

The study team assessed the twins’ lifetime work and hobby activities, specifically inquiring about occupational tasks such as electrical work, industrial machinery repair, and dry cleaning, which would potentially expose people to chemicals previously linked to Parkinson’s.

The researchers also collected information on head injuries, which are suspected to increase Parkinson’s risk, and smoking history, which is reported to decrease Parkinson’s risk.

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Expert evaluators, unaware of which study subjects had Parkinson’s, reviewed this information and calculated lifelong exposure to six chemicals: TCE, PERC, carbon tetrachloride, n-hexane, xylene and toluene. Of these, TCE and PERC posed a notable risk for developing Parkinson’s.

“The potential importance is great, since both solvents persist in the environment and are commonly used,” said Samuel Goldman, M.D., M.P.H. in a press release. “Parkinson’s was sixfold more common in twins exposed to TCE, and ninefold more common in twins exposed to TCE or PERC.”

There was also a trend toward a tenfold increase in Parkinson’s disease in twins exposed to PERC alone.

However, one limitation of the research is the small number of individuals studied, the researchers warn.

Reduce chemical exposure at the workplace

In some industries, you have to deal with certain solvents or chemicals, but employers need to protect workers with a comprehensive Health and Safety program.

Electrocorp offers industrial-strength air cleaners with activated carbon and HEPA to remove airborne chemicals, gases and fumes as well as other pollutants from the ambient air.

Find out more about Electrocorp’s units for heavy chemical and odor control, chemical manufacturing, and more.

Contact us for more information.