Topics
A to Z
Data &
 Statistics
Forms &
Publications
News &
Advisories
Licensing &
Certification
Rules &
Regulations
Public Health
Directory
Print this Article   Bookmark and Share
Frequently Asked Questions

Was I exposed to TCE?
If I drank water that contained TCE, will my health be affected?
What are the possible health effects of TCE exposure?
What health effects are observed in animals from TCE exposure?
What health effects are observed in humans from TCE exposure?
What is the overall message?
If I drank water that contained TCE, will I get cancer?
If I was exposed to TCE while I was pregnant or nursing,...
If a man was exposed to TCE,...
Is there a concern for exposure to TCE through hand washing...
Does TCE build up in the body? Can I be tested for TCE?
Were other chemicals found in the water?
Why is TCE getting the most attention?
What happens next?

Learn More...

Was I exposed to TCE?

If you worked at the Hall Street View-Master plant, you may have been exposed to trichloroethylene (TCE) through the water you drank while you worked. In March 1998, chemical tests of the factory's supply well discovered the presence of TCE at levels as high as 1,600 parts per billion (ppb). The drinking water standard for TCE, established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is 5 ppb.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality estimates that TCE was present in the drinking water at the View-Master plant for more than 20 years. However, we do not know with certainty how long the TCE was present in the water or what the levels of TCE may have been in the past. This information is necessary for estimating past exposures and associated health risks.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is planning to develop a more precise estimate of when TCE first became present in the supply well. However, we may never know with complete certainty how long the TCE has been in the water or what past TCE levels may have been.


If I drank water that contained TCE, will my health be affected?

Coming in contact with TCE does not necessarily mean that you will have any health problems. Being affected by TCE depends on several things, including:
  • How often and how long you were exposed to TCE
  • When you were exposed to TCE
  • How much TCE got into your body
  • How sensitive your body is to TCE
 
At this time, we do not have specific information about when workers may have been exposed to the TCE or how long they might have been exposed. We will need to gather this information from everyone who worked at the plant to help determine how likely it is that workers might experience health effects from the TCE.

As with many other chemicals, certain people may be more sensitive to the effects of TCE than others. These people have a higher risk of developing health problems from TCE exposure. Sensitive populations may include women who were pregnant at the time of exposure, children whose mothers were exposed to TCE during pregnancy, and people with certain liver, heart, brain, or kidney problems.

What are the possible health effects of TCE exposure?

Even though TCE has been used commonly by industry for many years, there is still a lot we do not know about its effects on people. Most studies of the effects of TCE on people have looked at workers who had direct contact with concentrated TCE on their skin or who were exposed by breathing fumes. The health impacts are not fully understood for people who were exposed to lower levels of TCE in drinking water over a long period of time.

There have been only a few studies that have looked at exposure of people to TCE in drinking water. These studies linked exposure to health effects such as anemia, arthritis, cancer, birth defects, and damage to the liver, the kidneys, the nervous system, and the immune system. These effects may have been related to TCE in the water people drank, but the studies were not conclusive and the effects may not actually have been caused by TCE.

What health effects are observed in animals from TCE exposure?

One way that scientists study the effects of chemicals is to expose laboratory animals to the chemicals at high concentrations and determine what health problems develop. When animals are exposed to TCE, investigators have found effects on the liver, the kidneys, the nervous system, and the immune system. Birth defects and cancer have also been found in some animal studies, while other animal studies found no effects.

Although animal studies help us understand the possible effects after exposure to chemicals like TCE, we must use caution when we make conclusions for humans based on animal studies. Animals are usually exposed to much higher levels of chemicals compared with people. Furthermore, animals do not always respond to chemicals the same way humans do.

What health effects are observed in humans from TCE exposure?

As with animal studies, it is hard to make definite conclusions from studies of humans exposed to TCE. In many studies, it is unclear how much of the chemical people were exposed to and how long they were exposed. In some of these studies, people were exposed to significant levels of other chemicals besides TCE. Some of these studies do not consider other things that might also cause health problems, such as other work-related exposures, diet, and smoking tobacco.

What is the overall message?

Overall, there is a lot we do not know about the potential health effects of TCE. Because of these uncertainties (and our lack of information about exposure) we do not know how likely it is that any single individual Hall Street worker will experience health effects that are a result of the TCE in the drinking water. However, we believe that the TCE concentrations were high enough and the exposure potentially long enough that there may be risks of health effects for some. The best way to learn if illnesses may be linked to exposure would be to do a full public health investigation, where we would interview the former workers to learn about their exposures and their illnesses. Analysis of that information will help us understand the link between TCE exposure and illness. DHS is currently looking for ways to finance and implement a complete public health evaluation of former Hall Street workers.

If I drank water that contained TCE, will I get cancer?

We cannot know with certainty if a disease affecting any particular person was caused by the exposure they may have had at the plant. Many factors, including genetics, lifestyle and diet, will influence the potential to develop cancer. A public health evaluation would gather information from many former workers, and the findings would tell us if the population of workers as a group is at greater risk for a disease than the general public. Further, the findings may tell us whether people who worked at the plant for more years, or who had more exposure to the water, may be more likely to develop an illness.

Some studies have shown that TCE can cause cancer in laboratory animals. Other studies suggest that exposure to TCE may cause certain types of cancer in humans, but these studies are not conclusive. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), has determined that TCE can probably cause cancer in humans. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also currently considers TCE as a probable human carcinogen.

If I was exposed to TCE while I was pregnant or nursing,...

...will my child be affected?
 
We cannot say for certain whether children born to mothers who drank the Hall Street water might have health problems, however, we recognize this as a possibility. Because TCE easily reaches the developing fetus and is passed into breast milk, unborn children and nursing infants are a population of special concern. Some studies in animals and humans suggest that TCE might affect unborn children. Developmental effects that have been associated with TCE exposure include effects on the central nervous system and heart. However, these studies are not conclusive.

Since we do not know how long the TCE has been in the water, we do not know what exposure pregnant or nursing women may have had in the past. If information about past TCE concentrations becomes available, it will help us determine the risks that the TCE contamination might have posed to nursing or unborn children.

The only way we will learn about possible health problems among children born to women who worked at the Hall Street Plant would be by interviewing former workers to gather information about their health and reproductive history. DHS is currently working to find ways to finance and implement a complete public health evaluation of former Hall Street workers that would examine pregnancy and birth outcomes, among other health concerns.

If a man was exposed to TCE,...

...can this affect the health of his children?
 
As far as we know, a man's exposure to TCE is not likely to affect the health of his children. Nevertheless, for the public health evaluation we plan to gather the same types of information from all former workers and examine whether there is any link between TCE exposure and reproductive effects for both men and women.

Is there a concern for exposure to TCE through hand washing...

...or breathing TCE that evaporated from the water? What about direct exposures to TCE when it was being used?
 
Although some TCE could have been absorbed though the skin during hand washing, or breathed in when the TCE evaporated from the water, these exposures were probably too low to present a measurable health risk.
 
People who worked directly with TCE solvent when it was being used at the plant (before 1980) could have had significant exposure from skin contact or breathing TCE vapors. It is especially important for these people to tell their doctor about their past exposure.

Does TCE build up in the body? Can I be tested for TCE?

TCE does not build up in the body. Once exposure has stopped, TCE is eliminated from the body within a week. Because of this, tests conducted now would not find any TCE in the body that might have come from past exposures.

Were other chemicals found in the water?

In addition to TCE, elevated levels of tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and cis-1,2 dichloroethylene (DCE) were found in the well water at levels above EPA's drinking water standards (called Maximum Contaminant Levels, or MCLs). DCE is a direct breakdown product of TCE, so it is not surprising to find this compound in the well water. PCE is commonly used in dry cleaning operations and may have had some industrial use at the factory.

Why is TCE getting the most attention?

Health concerns have focused on TCE because the TCE concentrations in the well water are much higher than concentrations of PCE and DCE. The following table shows the concentrations of these chemicals and their MCLs:

Chemical Concentration MCL
TCE 1600 ppb 5 ppb
PCE 56 ppb 5 ppb
DCE 33 ppb 70 ppb
 
 
Because the concentrations of PCE are above their MCLs, they do pose some risk. However, this risk is considered very low. MCLs are set at levels that are considered to be extremely protective of human health to ensure that drinking water standards are safe. Therefore, PCE and DCE are not anticipated to result in health problems for former workers at the Hall Street Plant.

What happens next?

DHS is presently working with ATSDR and other federal agencies to seek funding for a full health investigation that would involve interviewing all former Hall Street Plant workers or their next of kin. DHS is organizing a community advisory group that will work with the DHS to develop and implement a public health action plan. It is important for DHS to work together with former workers to learn whether people exposed to TCE at the Hall Street plant are at increased risk for any of the possible health problems that have been mentioned in this question and answer document.