Perchloroethylene is used in dry cleaning. Long-term exposure may affect health.
What is perchloroethylene?
Perchloroethylene is a colorless, nonflammable liquid with a sweet, ether-like odor. It is also called tetrachloroethylene, PCE, or PERC. The chemical formula for perchloroethylene is C2Cl4. How might I be exposed to perchloroethylene?
Perchloroethylene is a volatile organic compound (VOC). Perchloroethylene is a manufactured chemical that is primarily used for dry cleaning fabrics and degreasing metals. It has also been used to make other chemicals, including chlorofluorocarbons, and rubber coatings; as an insulating fluid and cooling gas in electrical transformers; and as a scouring, sizing, and desizing agent in textiles. It is an ingredient in aerosol products, solvent soaps, printing inks, adhesives, sealants, paint removers, paper coatings, leather treatments, automotive cleaners, polishes, lubricants, and silicones. It is also an ingredient in some consumer products, including typewriter correction fluid, adhesives, spot removers, wood cleaners, and shoe polish.
You can be exposed to perchloroethylene if you dry clean your clothes, which will release small amounts of perchloroethylene into the air after they are dry cleaned, or if you use a laundromat that contains dry cleaning machines. You can also be exposed if you use products that contain perchloroethylene, such as fabric finishers, adhesives, spot removers, typewriter correction fluid, shoe polish, and wood cleaners. How can perchloroethylene affect my health?
Exposure to low levels of perchloroethylene in the air and water can occur because of industrial releases. There is more perchloroethylene in the air in urban and industrial areas than in rural and remote areas. You can be exposed to higher levels if you live or work close to dry cleaning facilities, chemical waste sites, or chemical storage areas where perchloroethylene has been stored.
At work, you can be exposed to perchloroethylene if you work in a dry cleaning, metal degreasing, chemical production, rubber coating, or textile facility.
Short-term exposure to high levels of perchloroethylene can affect the central nervous system and cause unconsciousness and death.
Perchloroethylene is listed as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" in the Twelfth Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program because long-term exposure to perchloroethylene can cause leukemia and cancer of the skin, colon, lung, larynx, bladder, and urogenital tract.
Long-term exposure may also damage the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys; it can also cause respiratory failure, memory loss, confusion, and dry and cracked skin. If you are pregnant, long-term exposure to perchloroethylene may damage a developing fetus.
Short-term exposure to high levels of perchloroethylene can cause buildup of fluid in the lungs, eye and respiratory irritation, severe shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, sleepiness, confusion, difficulty speaking and walking, and lightheadedness.
Short-term exposure to low levels of perchloroethylene can cause dizziness, inebriation, sleepiness, and irritated eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and respiratory tract. Direct contact with perchloroethylene liquid or vapor can irritate and burn the skin, eyes, nose, and throat.
If you have a disease of the heart, liver, kidneys, or lungs, you will be more susceptible to the health effects of perchloroethylene.
If you think your health has been affected by exposure to perchloroethylene, contact your health care professional.
For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.
Map of Superfund Hazardous Waste Sites with Perchloroethylene in the United States. TOXMAP (National Library of Medicine)
Tetrachloroethylene (PERC). ToxFAQs. (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
Tetrachloroethylene. Haz-Map (National Library of Medicine)
Tetrachloroethylene. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (National Library of Medicine)
Tetrachloroethylene. Household Products Database (National Library of Medicine)
What is Perchloroethylene (Tetrachloroethylene or PCE)? (Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center) (PDF — 62 KB)
Last Updated: August 8, 2013