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Last updated date: 21st Jul 2024
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Trichloroethylene was first prepared in 1864. It is man-made and does not exist in the atmosphere naturally. Trichloroethylene emissions can mainly come from three sources: processing, transport, and consumption. It may also be released to the atmosphere by evaporation from and during the manufacture of adhesive glues, paints, coatings, and other chemicals. 

In this article, we will study TCE trichloroethylene, trichloroethylene products, TCE in water, and the use of trichloroethylene in detail.

TCE Trichloroethylene

IUPAC name of Trichloroethylene (TCE) is Trichloroethene with a molecular formula of C2HCl3. It is a transparent, mobile, colourless liquid with an ether-like odour.

  • Density -1.46g/cm3

  • Molecular weight-131.4 g/mol

  • Boiling point-  87.2 C

  • Melting point- -73C

Use of Trichloroethylene

  • TCE is used in the manufacture of various fluorocarbon refrigerants.

  • As an efficient degreaser, TCE was used for machinery parts and equipment. It is used to extract grease from fabricated pieces of metal and certain textiles as a solvent (trichloroethylene solvent).

  • TCE has also been used to clean kerosene-fueled rocket engines (trichloroethylene military use).

  • It is also used in adhesives, paint removers, fluids for typewriter correction, and spot removers as an ingredient.

  • Used for the production of 100% ethanol by removing residual water.

Trichloroethylene Structure

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Physical Properties of Trichloroethylene 


Odour like chloroform


Colourless liquid


0.53 mPa·s at 25 °C

Surface tension

‎28.7 dyn/cm


Soluble in only organic solvents

The Chemical Reaction of Trichloroethylene

4 C2HCl3+ 9 O2 → 8 CO2 + 2 H2O + 6 Cl2

The Industrial History of TCE

  1. It is used as a solvent for organic solvents.

  2. It is used to extract vegetable oil from plant materials.

  3. Used in the food industry for coffee decaffeination and for the preparation of flavouring extract from spices.

  4. It is used as anaesthesia administered with nitrous oxide. It is very effective even in low concentration and thus considered a better anaesthetic than chloroform and ether

TCE in Water and Soil

  • TCE dissolves only a little in water but can remain in groundwater for a long time.

  • TCE quickly evaporates from surface water, so it is commonly found as a vapour in the air.

  • TCE evaporates less easily from the soil than surface water It sticks to particles and remains for a long time.

  • TCE may stick to particles in water and settle in bottom sediments.

How are People Exposed to TCE?

  • Breathing air in the home contaminated with TCE vapours.

  • Drinking, swimming, or showering in water that has been contaminated with TCE.

  • Contact with soil contaminated with TCE.

  • Contact with the skin and/or breathing in vapours while using TCE in-home or work

TCE and Human Health

  • Small amounts of TCE can cause headaches, irritation of the lungs, dizziness, poor coordination, and attention problems. 

  • Impaired heart function, unconsciousness, and death can be caused by breathing large quantities of TCE. 

  • Breathing large quantities of TCE for a long time can cause damage to the nerves, kidneys, and liver. 

  • Nausea, liver damage, unconsciousness, reduced heart function, and death can be caused by consuming significant quantities of TCE.

  • Drinking large amounts of TCE for long periods of time may cause impaired immune system function, and impaired fetal development (though the extent is not yet clear).

  • Skin contact with TCE for short periods of time may cause skin rashes.

Did You Know?

  • Some studies in mice and rats have suggested that high levels of TCE may cause kidney, liver, or lung cancer. Some studies of people exposed over long periods to high levels of TCE in drinking water or in the workplace air have found evidence of increased cancer rates.

  • The International Agency for Cancer Research has established that TCE is likely to be carcinogenic in humans.

FAQs on Trichloroethylene

Question: Is Trichloroethylene Harmful to the Body?

Answer: There were adverse effects on the nervous system, liver, respiratory system, kidneys, blood, immune system, heart, and body weight due to relatively short-term animal exposure to trichloroethylene. In some individuals,  exposure to trichloroethylene can cause scleroderma (a systemic autoimmune disease).

Question: How Do You Test for TCE?

Answer: It can be found in your breath, blood, or urine if you have been exposed to TCE recently. Breath monitoring for small quantities of TCE must occur within an hour or two after exposure. Blood and urine samples for significant quantities of TCE will detect TCE and its by-products up to a week after exposure.

Question: How is TCE Going to Get Into Groundwater?

Answer: In soil, TCE can leak into groundwater as well. TCE that is spilt on the ground will pass down into groundwater through the soil. It may also leach or seep out of landfills and disposal sites that are poorly developed. From these surface waters, TCE evaporates rapidly, but some may stick to particles and settle in the sediment.