What is PCE and What are the Threats of PCE?

What is PCE and What are the Threats of PCE?

Tetrachloroethylene (PCE), is a chlorinated solvent used in dry cleaning and industrial operations.  It is also known as tetrachloroethene, or perchloroethylene (PERC).  If inadvertently spilled or leaked onto the ground surface, it can get into the soil and groundwater.  PCE does not degrade quickly and can remain in the subsurface for decades.  The United States Department of Health and Human Services Fourteenth Report on Carcinogens (RoC) has determined that PCE may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen (a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue).

Potential Threats of PCE beneath a drycleaner include:

  • Vapor intrusion through the foundation into buildings.  Exposure to PCE vapors in sufficient concentrations can adversely affect the health of employees, customers and the general public.  Acute (short, one time) exposure to PCE can affect the Central Nervous System (CNS), skin, eyes and upper respiratory tract.  Chronic exposure (repeated contact over a period of time) may also adversely affect the liver and kidneys.
  • Migration of PCE to groundwater. PCE is mobile in groundwater and will sink below the water table, making cleanup of PCE plumes in groundwater very difficult and expensive.
  • Naturally degradation of PCE in the subsurface produce toxic compounds such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and vinyl chloride (VC) which are also dangerous to human health and the environment.


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