New researchers indicates that exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE), a common industrial cleaning fluid, may increase a person’s risk of developing liver, kidney and cervical cancer, raising serious concerns about the safety of the widely used solvent.
A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute examined three different Nordic studies from Finland, Sweden and Denmark.
More than 5,500 workers were exposed to TCE and studied for cancer risk. Researchers checked the participants urine for the TCE metabolite trichloroacetic acid and compared to records from cancer registries ranging from 1947 through 1989.
Johnni Hansen and his team from the Danish Cancer Society Research Center found 997 cases of cancer. Of the cases, researchers determined TCE increased the incidence of liver, cervical and kidney cancers.
The study did not find an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma or esophageal adenocarcinoma from TCE exposure. Additionally, tobacco and alcohol associated cancers were not found to increase with TCE exposure either.
TCE is a widely used chlorinated solvent. It is used as a degreaser to clean machinery, paint stripper, adhesive solvent, is often used during the etching process and is sometimes used as an ingredient in paints and varnishes. Exposure to the chemical has already been shown to cause cancer in animals when inhaled or absorbed by the skin in large amounts.
Many people believe the chemical is used at such low levels that it is unlikely to cause harm. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) named TCE a human carcinogen in 2012. The chemical continues to be widely used, especially in the United States.
WHO also noted TCE is especially dangerous to the kidneys, as the recent Nordic study indicated with the heightened risk it poses to developing kidney, liver and cervix cancer. The study did not specifically consider the workers’ history of smoking or drinking alcohol in relation to cancer risk.
Researchers emphasize the findings are more applicable to occupational exposure, as industrial workers are often exposed to the chemicals at higher quantities and for longer durations of time. The general population is not at risk for TCE cancer risk considering the infrequent exposure to the chemical, say the study authors. However they do emphasize more research is needed.