Map identifies 426 areas where trichloroethylene affects U.S. drinking water

Nov. 13, 2023
The Environmental Working Group has updated an interactive map that tracks the presence of a cancer-causing solvent in drinking water, adding 243 new detections of TCE since 2018.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has updated its interactive map detailing where drinking water supplies contain trichloroethylene (TCE), a cancer-causing industrial solvent, according to a EWG press release.

EWG’s updated map shows TCE may be present in the tap water of more than 19 million U.S. citizens. EWG researchers analyzed federal and state water test data to create the map.

The updated map adds 243 new detections of TCE in drinking water, compared to the earlier version of the map released in 2018. In total, the map now identifies 426 areas affecting U.S. drinking water.

“Too many people are exposed to TCE in their drinking water,” said Tasha Stoiber, a senior scientist at EWG. “Communities across the country have water with potentially harmful levels of this toxic solvent, but many people don’t know about the risk they face when they turn on the tap.”

EWG said that the federal government may soon ban uses of the chemical. In October 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a ban on most uses of TCE.

“Concerned families can remove or reduce TCE from their tap water with a carbon-based filter,” said Stoiber. “For households that use private wells, we recommend testing the water for TCE and other contaminants to find out whether water treatment is necessary.”

TCE in drinking water

EWG stated that consumption of TCE-contaminated water has been linked to leukemia and liver and kidney damage. It has also been linked to birth defects.

In 1987, the EPA passed a maximum contaminant level for TCE in drinking water of 5 parts per billion, or ppb.

The Minnesota Department of Health identified a more health-protective level of TCE in drinking water of 0.4 ppb, though it's not legally enforceable. This standard is based on the impact of TCE on the immune system. EWG adopted this level as its health standard, a recommended level for when TCE levels in water are considered safe.

Health risks

EWG claimed that TCE poses health risks through ingestion, inhalation and skin absorption.

Both the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the Department of Health and Human Services have classified TCE as a human carcinogen.

The cancers most commonly linked to TCE are kidney and liver cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Exposure to TCE also has been associated with a range of health issues, including various immune and neurological defects. TCE has even been associated with heart malformations in the developing fetus.

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