Trichloroethylene (TCE) — a widely used chlorinated dry-cleaning solvent and degreaser — has been linked to increased liver and cervical cancer risks in a new study calling for more scrutiny of the potential human health and safety hazards posed by chemical.
The new study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found TCE exposure poses "statistically significant" increased risks for liver cancer and cervical cancer, but has no connection to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, or esophageal or kidney cancer.
Researchers from the Danish Cancer Society Research Center in Copenhagen reached their conclusions by analyzing the medical records of workers in Finland, Sweden, and Denmark, who were exposed to TCE on the job. The workers were monitored for the presence of TCE byproducts in their urine from 1947 to 1989 and followed for cancer.
The results showed TCE exposure significantly increase the risk of liver and cervical cancer, but not for other forms of the disease.
"Our pooled study of documented TCE-exposed workers provides some evidence for an increased risk of liver cancer, although confounding by other exposures cannot be ruled out," said the researchers, led by Johnni Hansen. "Evaluation of a possible modest risk for kidney cancer and non- Hodgkin lymphoma requires studies with greater statistical power."
The investigators noted the findings add to the conclusions of past studies of TCE that have shown a reported increase in cancer risk in humans for the kidney, cervix, liver and biliary passages, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and esophageal adenocarcinoma.
In an accompanying editorial, Mark P. Purdue, of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute, noted there has been concern with workers exposed to TCE since the early 1970s. Even though it is now classified as a human carcinogen, Purdue said further research is needed and safer options should be explored.
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"Where possible, TCE should be substituted by safer alternative chemicals and/or emissions should be reduced. Conversion from conventional vapor degreasers to new low-emission equipment such as enclosed vapor degreasing systems can greatly reduce solvent exposures in the workplace, and aqueous cleaning systems may also be feasible alternatives in certain applications."
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