A large, new study has found that a common industrial cleaning fluid is associated with increased risks for developing liver and other cancers.
The study found that Scandinavian workers who were exposed to trichloroethylene (TCE) suffered from increased risks for developing liver, kidney, and cervix cancers, according to Reuters Health. Prior research has revealed that TCE causes cancer in animals when inhaled or absorbed through the skin in large quantities.
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) designated TCE a human carcinogen in October 2012, the chemical is broadly used in industry to clean machinery and is also used in some etching processes, Reuters wrote. The WHO discussed links to kidney cancer; however, prior studies have suggested that TCE is also associated with liver, kidney, cervical, and esophageal cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The team updated and analyzed data from three prior studies conducted in Sweden, Finland, and Denmark involving 5,553 workers (1,777 of them women) with documented exposure to TCE, according to Reuters. The cancer registries were initiated in 1958 and results from urine tests tracked workers’ TCE exposure levels from 1947 to 1989. The researchers saw more liver cancer (36 seen compared to an expected 20) and cervical cancer (seven over two) cases than expected
TCE is used in the United States—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates TCE levels in the workplace—as an intermediate step in refrigerant chemical production, as well as a solvent to clean metal parts, Reuters explained.
TCE can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. TCE drinking and bathing water contamination has been the focus of a number of lawsuits in the U.S.
Increased risks for Parkinson’s disease have been linked to TCE. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, degenerative central nervous system disorder that typically affects motor skills and speech, among other functions and, while not fatal, complications can be deadly. The cause is unknown and there is no cure. The researchers found that exposure to TCE was associated with a significantly increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.
In fact, the researchers found a massive six-fold increased risk for developing Parkinson’s in people exposed to TCE in the workplace. And, although mostly banned worldwide, TCE continues to be used as a degreaser.
Before its ban, TCE was used in paints, glue, carpet cleaners, and dry-cleaning solutions. The chemical was banned in the food and pharmaceutical industries in most areas of the world the 1970s. In 1997, TCE was banned as an anesthetic, skin disinfectant, grain fumigant, and coffee decaffeinater in the U.S.
Another study found that exposure in the workplace to certain solvents has been linked to heart birth defects.