American workers in the dry cleaning business and other industries who work around PCE (Tetrachloroethylene) may be at risk of chronic exposure and may develop related diseases and illnesses. PCE is frequently used in dry cleaning operations, and employees are urged to monitor their health conditions.
Tetrachloroethylene may also be inhaled from accidental spills or product use in small, enclosed spaces, and landfills in which it may have been disposed. PCE is released into the air and water by evaporation or emissions from industrial and dry-cleaning plants and may lead to toxic exposure.
Workers may be regularly exposed in specific workplaces, and employers have a responsibility to protect employees and provide a safe work environment. Should any employer fail in this regard and a worker falls ill as a result of workplace toxin exposure, an investigation may be necessary, a claim can be filed against the negligent company, and injured workers can be awarded proper compensation for related expenses and pain and suffering.
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Who is at Risk of PCE Exposure?
People with the greatest chance of being exposed are those who work with it on a daily basis. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), more than 650,000 U.S. workers may be exposed to PCE at the workplace.
Those most affected are likely in the dry cleaning business and industrial sites that may have levels of PCE higher than background levels. If a dry cleaning business has spilled or leaked PCE on the ground, there may also be contaminated groundwater, and entire communities may be at risk.
Breathing contaminated air and drinking water are the two most likely ways people are exposed to PCE. Tetrachloroethylene enters the body when contaminated air is inhaled or when food or water is contaminated with the chemical and consumed.
If PCE is trapped against the skin, it can pass through into the body. Dermal contact may be a route of PCE exposure in the workplace and among the general public. However, the chemical is less easily absorbed through the skin than through inhalation and oral exposure routes.
Understanding PCE (Tetrachloroethylene)
PCE (Tetrachloroethylene), also known as PERC or perchloroethylene, is a man-made chemical widely used for dry cleaning clothes and degreasing metal. It is also used to make other chemicals and can be found in some household products such as water repellents, silicone lubricants, spot removers, adhesives and wood cleaners.
PCE easily evaporates into the air and has a sharp, sweet odor. People can be exposed to PCE from household products, dry cleaning products and at the workplace. PCE can evaporate into the air during dry cleaning operations and during industrial use. It can also evaporate into the air if it is not properly stored or is spilled. If it is spilled or leaked on the ground, it may contaminate groundwater.
PCE Exposure Injury
Any symptoms of PCE exposure and development of a related illness will depend on the dose, the duration and frequency of exposure. As a general rule, young children, the elderly and people with chronic health issues are more at risk to chemical exposures.
Exposure to high concentrations of PCE in closed, poorly ventilated areas can cause dizziness, headache, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness and even death. Skin irritation may result from repeated or extended contact.
A U.S. National Toxicology Program Report on Carcinogens noted that PCE has been shown to cause liver tumors and kidney tumors in animal studies. The results of one study suggests that the risk of epilepsy and cervical cancer may be increased among adults exposed to PCE-contaminated drinking water during gestation and early childhood. Occupational studies show PCE exposure can have long-term harmful health effects on the vision.
Preventing PCE Exposure
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that PCE be handled as a potential carcinogen and that levels in workplaces should be kept as low as possible. If you suspect exposure, medical professionals can test for PCE exposure by measuring the amount of the chemical in the breath. Because PCE is stored in the body’s fat and slowly released into the bloodstream, it can be detected for weeks following a heavy exposure. PCE can also be detected in the blood.
No medical treatment can remove PCE from the body, but the body does break down and remove these chemicals over time in most cases. Avoiding any PCE exposure is recommended.