Healthy Family | Home Safety | Health and Wealth | Relationship Issues | Career Advice | Growing Family
Get the SixWise e-Newsletter FREE!
Google Web
Free Newsletter Subscription
Get the Web's Most trusted & Informative Health, Wealth, Safety & More Newsletter -- FREE!


Share Email to a Friend Print This

Common & Controversial Pollutant in Drinking Water, TCE, Linked Strongly to Cancer

A widespread pollutant found in drinking water supplies across the country can cause cancer in humans -- and at rates higher than was thought just five years ago, according to a new National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report.

TCE -- now strongly linked to cancer and other health problems in humans -- is known to contaminate U.S. drinking water supplies.

The contaminant is trichloroethylene, or TCE, a solvent with a fairly sweet odor and taste used in adhesives, paint and spot removers, and also to remove grease from metal airplane parts and clean fuel lines at missile sites. TCE evaporates quickly in the environment, but can easily migrate down through soil and into groundwater where it can reach private and public drinking water supplies.

Concerns Raised in 2001, but Suspiciously Dropped

In 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a document raising concerns that TCE could cause cancer in humans at rates higher than was previously thought.

Several federal agencies accused the EPA of inflating TCE's risks, and consequently the request to make stricter regulations was dropped. Ironically, the agencies that reportedly had a hand in getting the document dropped -- the Department of Defense, Energy Department and NASA -- all are known to have sites polluted with the contaminant.

In response, the government asked the NAS to look into the issue, hence the new report.

Not only does the new NAS report confirm the EPA's previous findings that TCE may cause:

  • Kidney cancer

  • Reproductive and developmental damage

  • Impaired neurological function

  • Autoimmune disease

  • Other ailments in humans

... but it also found that TCE may be somewhere between two and 40 times more carcinogenic than was previously thought.

As a side note, if it seems suspicious that federal agencies would want to keep the EPA from raising concerns about TCE, consider this: since 2003, the Department of Defense has been seeking exemptions to many environmental laws on the grounds that they interfere with military readiness.

They have been granted exemptions from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and parts of the Endangered Species Act, and they continue to seek exemptions from (though as of fiscal year 2007 have not yet been granted):

  • The Clean Air Act

  • The Solid Waste Disposal Act

  • The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)

"Many Communities are Exposed to the Chemical"

According to the NAS report, "Hundreds of waste sites are contaminated with trichloroethylene, and it is well-documented that individuals in many communities are exposed to the chemical, with associated health risks."

Using a granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration system is the most effective way to remove TCE from your water.

TCE has been found at 60 percent of contaminated sites in the Superfund cleanup program, and is commonly found in the air, soil and water at U.S. military bases. In fact, TCE is often described as the most pervasive industrial contaminant in drinking water.

"The committee found that the evidence on carcinogenic risk and other health hazards from exposure to trichloroethylene has strengthened since 2001," the report said.

Stricter Drinking Water Regulations May Follow

The report recommends that the EPA reassess the threat of TCE to the American public. As it stands, regulations limit TCE to no more than five parts per billion in drinking water, but the findings may call for stricter regulations of just one part per billion (which would almost assuredly require military bases and other areas to be cleaned up).

How to Avoid TCE in Drinking Water

While the EPA begins a new risk assessment of TCE (the "EPA will determine whether or not to address the drinking water standard once the risk assessment is complete," said Jennifer Wood, an EPA spokeswoman), you may be concerned about TCE in your own drinking water.

A water testing company can detect TCE in your drinking water and alert you if levels are higher than current EPA limits. For private well owners, the Water Systems Council, a national non-profit organization, advises testing your water for TCE if you live in one of these at-risk states: Pennsylvania, Illinois, Georgia, Texas, Massachusetts and West Virginia.

To remove TCE from drinking water, a granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration system is most effective. You can find a GAC filter from a water treatment contractor or a home supply store, in a one-faucet/appliance or whole-house variety.

If your water is contaminated with TCE, a whole-house GAC filter is recommended, as this will apply to all faucets in your home, including those used for bathing (otherwise, it's possible to inhale TCE from the air while bathing).

Recommended Reading

Bottled Water: Which City's Tap Water System is Making a Flood of Cash off of You?

Is There Radon in Your Drinking Water?


MSNBC July 27, 2006

CRS Report for Congress

Alter Net: Military Waste in Our Drinking Water

Minnesota Department of Health

To get more information about this and other highly important topics, sign up for your free subscription to our weekly "Be Safe, Live Long & Prosper" e-newsletter.

With every issue of the free newsletter, you’ll get access to the insights, products, services, and more that can truly improve your well-being, peace of mind, and therefore your life!

Share Email to a Friend Print This