What is Trichloroethylene?

Trichloroethylene is a chemical with the chemical formula C2HCI3. Often shortened to just ‘TCE’, it is a clear and colourless, volatile liquid with a sweet smelling odour, similar to chloroform. Trichloroethylene is not flammable.   

What is Trichloroethylene used for?

As a solvent, trichloroethylene is mainly used as; an industrial and metal degreaser, a dry cleaning agent, an ingredient in adhesives and lubricants for the electronics industry as well as in the production of refrigerants as well. Trichloroethylene is also present in many consumer products such as; clothing spot removers, rug cleaners, cleaning wipes, aerosol cleaning products, tool cleaners, printing ink, paint, paint removers and spray adhesives. Until recently, it was used to make; hop extracts for beer, spice extracts and decaffeinated coffee.

Industrial dry cleaning is a large user of trichloroethylene
Industrial dry cleaning is a large user of trichloroethylene

Trichloroethylene Hazards

The routes of exposure for trichloroethylene include; inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact. 

Inhalation of trichloroethylene may cause drowsiness and dizziness, accompanied by unconsciousness, reduced alertness, loss of reflexes, lack of coordination and vertigo. The risk of inhalation is increased at higher temperature. Additional symptoms of inhaling high concentrations include; irritation to the lungs, coughing, nausea, central nervous system depression, headaches and fatigue. 

Ingestion of high concentrations of trichloroethylene may cause serious damage to the liver and kidneys. Symptoms of liver damage include; nausea, stomach pain, low fever, loss of appetite, dark urine, clay coloured stools and jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes).

Skin contact to the chemical produces severe skin irritation and inflammation. This is usually characterised by; redness, swelling and possible blistering, scaling and thickening of the skin. Entry into the bloodstream may cause another set of complications, so skin must be inspected for open wounds or cuts before handling trichloroethylene.

Eye exposure to trichloroethylene may cause irritation characterised by; temporary redness, temporary vision impairment and damage to the eye.

Trichloroethylene is regarded as a carcinogen to humans with various studies reporting an association between the industrial exposure to the chemical with cancer and even Parkinson’s disease.

Trichloroethylene Safety

If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source and monitor their breathing. Lay them down and keep them warm and rested. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform CPR. Seek medical attention. 

If swallowed, do not induce vomiting. If vomiting does occur, lean the patient forward or place on their left side to prevent aspiration. Provide water Seek medical attention.

If skin exposure occurs, immediately remove all contaminated clothing, footwear and accessories and cleanse the affected area with plenty of soap and water. Contaminated clothing should be washed prior to wearing again. Seek medical attention in the event of irritation. 

If exposed to the eyes, flush the eyes out immediately with fresh running water, remembering to wash under the eyelids. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by a skilled individual. Seek medical attention without delay.

Trichloroethylene Safety Handling

Emergency eyewash fountains and safety showers should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical. Contaminated exhaust air should not be discharged into regulated areas and clean air must be introduced to ensure sufficient airflow is available in the area of the chemical. 

The PPE recommended when handling trichloroethylene includes; safety glasses with side shields, chemical goggles, dust respirators, PVC protective gloves, overalls and safety gumboots.

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