Our health depends on what we eat and our lifestyle, but the environment we live in also plays a key role. In fact, there are toxic substances that can be found at home or in the office as they are diffused in the air or released by products used for cleaning. Today we are talking about one of these substances, trichlorethylene. Much attention is paid to this substance as, recently, a study has been published which has advanced the hypothesis that exposure to trichlorethylene can cause neurotoxic effects, but let's proceed in order and try to understand what trichlorethylene is, where it can be found, what risks it can cause and what we can do to defend ourselves.
Trichlorethylene, what it is and where it can be found
Trichlorethylene, also known as trichlorethylene or TCE, is a colorless and volatile liquid, which is produced for commercial and industrial use, albeit to a lesser extent than in the past. Trichlorethylene can be used as a degreaser on metal parts, but also as an ingredient in stain removers, adhesives, paints, lubricants, even some pepper sprays and some products for dry cleaning, although, in recent years, trichlorethylene for dry cleaning has been replaced by tetrachlorethylene. The problem is that the massive uses of these substances in the industrial but also military fields have caused the contamination of groundwater and the release of toxic vapors into the air. This water and this air can then enter our home or office (Ray et al, Journal of Parkinson's Disease, 2023). Studies have found the presence of trichlorethylene even in butter stored in the refrigerator, since this substance is soluble in fats (Ray et al, Journal of Parkinson's Disease, 2023).
Trichlorethylene, tumors and Parkinson's
But why all the fuss around trichlorethylene? Because trichloroethylene is toxic, it is considered carcinogenic, acting above all at the liver level, and is capable of increasing the risk of developing Parkinson's disease. This last point emerges from very recent scientific research that appeared in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease and published by a team from the University of Rochester Medical Center, New York (Ray et al, Journal of Parkinson's Disease, 2023). Trichlorethylene, in fact, as indicated by the researchers, is soluble in fats and therefore can be found in the adipose tissues in our body. Here, the trichloroethylene accumulates and can reach the brain where it would cause a dysfunction at the level of the mitochondria, which are the cellular organelles responsible for the production of energy. Dopaminergic neurons, which are neurons that produce dopamine, participate in movement and cognition and an alteration of which can cause Parkinson's, are very sensitive to toxic substances that act at the level of the mitochondria, resulting in an alteration in their functionality and a increased risk of neurodegeneration. Not only that, trichloroethylene also works by increasing neuroinflammation. As a result of these processes, exposure to trichlorethylene can increase the risk of developing Parkinson's by up to 500%. This percentage clearly refers to occupational exposures, high and prolonged over time, not what can happen in a home. In any case, the research has the merit of emphasizing an essential aspect, namely that a substance that could enter the house in various ways, as shown in the first paragraph, can exert a neurotoxic action. Even tetrachlorethylene, the substance that has replaced trichlorethylene in some fields, has a neurotoxic action similar to trichlorethylene, also because, under some conditions, tetrachlorethylene is transformed into trichlorethylene (Ray et al, Journal of Parkinson's Disease, 2023 - Guyton et al, Environ Health Perspect, 2014).
Trichlorethylene, tips for every day
The first tip is certainly to prevent trichlorethylene vapors from accumulating in the house, by ventilating often.
Then, it's good to always read the label of products, even professional ones, that you buy as a hobby or for cleaning the house, and, if possible, choose products without this substance. Nowadays it is generally already indicated on the label that a certain product is trichlorethylene-free. If, on the other hand, this substance is present, perhaps contained in a product for professional use or from a few years ago, you can seal these products well so that there are no leaks and keep them in separate places from where you live. If it is then necessary to dry clean some clothes, it is good practice to expose them for a few hours in the open air, in the garden or on the balcony.
Trichlorethylene, nature comes to your aid
In the 80s NASA commissioned a scientist, BC Wolverton, to carry out a study which was supposed to have the aim of understanding how to improve the microclimate in space stations but which later turned out to be very important for everyday life. Wolverton, in fact, observed that some plants are able to remove, at least in part, the toxic substances that can be found in closed environments, including trichlorethylene. Based on Wolverton's research (BC Wolverton et al, NASA, 1989), it was found that the chrysanthemum can remove, in one day, more than 40% of the trichloroethylene present in a room. Gerbera jamesonii, which is a splendid plant to admire, thanks to its flowers that resemble brightly colored daisies, manages to remove up to 35% of trichlorethylene. Other plants that remove trichlorethylene, albeit to a lesser extent, were the ficus, the Dracena fragrans warneckii, the spathiphyllum, the sansevieria, or mother in law's tongue or even snake plant, and the common ivy.