Chemical and Material Risk Management Program

The Basics

Tricloroethylene (TCE)

What is TCE?

  • TCE is a nonflammable and colorless liquid that was widely used as a degreaser and cleaner for aircraft parts and metals parts. It may still be found in household products such as paints, varnishes, and adhesives.

What are common uses of TCE?

  • TCE is commercially available as a general-purpose solvent and is used extensively as a “feedstock” to manufacture other chemicals.

Why is TCE on the DoD Emerging Contaminants Action List?

  • Recent scientific studies have raised concerns about the potential link between TCE exposure, kidney cancer and other health problems. In July of 2006, a National Academy of Sciences called on EPA to issue a new health risk assessment.
  • EPA and state agencies are reassessing the health effects of low levels of exposure to TCE. This may result in revised toxicity benchmarks which are used to assess environmental, safety and health risks.
  • TCE vapor entering buildings from soil and groundwater contamination is being recognized as an important new route of potential exposure.
  • Of the more than 10,000 DoD operational facilities, TCE has been found at 1,400 sites and cleanup operations are underway.
  • Historic DoD uses include metal degreasing but substitutes are now widely used. Some specialized applications such as testing aircraft propulsion systems and weapons systems remain. It is also used by DoD suppliers to clean sensitive computer circuit boards and during the munitions manufacturing process.
  • Changes in the toxicity benchmarks may affect the availability of TCE in the marketplace and may require changes in how TCE is used, disposed of, and cleaned up.
  • TCE is considered a hazardous substance under a number of different environmental, health, and safety laws.
  • A Maximum Contaminant Level for TCE exists for public drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act which is also used in making cleanup decisions.

How is the military managing risks posed by TCE?

  • DoD continues to investigate and respond to past TCE releases at installations and formerly used defense sites in accordance with federal, state and local regulations as part of DoD’s overall environmental restoration program.
  • DoD currently follows strict handling procedures to prevent releases of TCE into the environment and exposure by workers.
  • Using pollution prevention principles, DoD has replaced many products containing TCE with less-hazardous cleaning agents (e.g., citrus-based agents, mineral oils, and other non-toxic solutions) and continues to explore other, safer substitutes.
  • The emerging contaminants program is assessing the changing regulatory climate and is developing risk management options for DoD program managers.

Where can I get more information?