The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is going after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for rescinding proposed bans on trichloroethylene (TCE) under the Trump administration. According to the EWG, the cancer-causing industrial chemical has contaminated tap water supplies serving more than 14 million Americans.
TCE is an industrial solvent that was facing being banned for use in aerosol and vapor degreasing as well as spot cleaners. The EPA even went as far as preventing TCE from being effectively assessed in water, air and soil pollution as required under the revamped federal toxic chemicals law.
Thousands of People Don’t Know the TCE Risks They Face When Running the Tap
The EWG reported drinking water tainted with TCE has been linked to several serious health complications. These include leukemia among certain other cancers, liver and kidney damage and birth defects. EWG also claimed internal EPA documents showed that the agency may seek to minimize evidence that links TCE to heart defects in fetuses. And exposure to TCE doesn’t just come through drinking tainted water.
“People whose water contains TCE can be exposed not just by drinking it, but also by inhaling it while bathing, washing dishes and doing other household activities,” said Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D., 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.”
More than 300 public water systems in 36 states tested positive for TCE in 2015 after EPA ran mandated tests. Half of those systems showed TCE concentrations higher than the recommended safe levels for infants and fetuses. The EWG has a map that shows all of the water systems that tested positive for TCE.
Personal Measures Should Be Taken To Minimize TCE Exposure in Homes
In response to the proposed bans on TCE (the first such bans in 25 years), the chemical industry mounted a powerful lobbying campaign that compelled the EPA in 2017 to scrap the bans.
“The chemical industry’s efforts paid off,” said Melanie Benesh, a legislative attorney at EWG. “This is just the latest of the Trump administration’s many actions to make life more toxic for Americans. Allowing this dangerous chemical to remain in commerce is further evidence that the Trump administration will abandon public health at the directive of the chemical industry.”
Since the federal government is lagging behind in dealing with TCE contamination, some states such as Minnesota and New York are taking matters into their own hands. Minnesota and New York published recommendations for reducing exposure to TCE which included suggestions like have extensive indoor air ventilation when bathing and cooking or when using the laundry machine and dishwater. Minnesota also set a TCE in drinking water safety threshold of ten times less than the federal guidelines.
“Concerned families can remove or reduce TCE from their tap water with an inexpensive carbon-based filter,” said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., EWG’s senior science advisor for children’s environmental health. “But to protect everyone, coordinated state and federal action is required. People should not have to bear the costs of pollution caused by industry.”
If you’ve heard of TCE before but aren’t sure where it might because of the movie and book “A Civil Action.” The 1998 movie, based on the book, starred John Travolta and Robert Duvall and was based on a true story of TCE contamination in Woburn, Massachusettes. Residents of Woburn sued Beatrice Foods for dumping TCE and perchloroethylene in the groundwater which lead to a cancer cluster in the town. After a series of appeals, the lawsuit was ultimately settled out of court.