Trichlorethylene has been used for 100 years for dry cleaning (and beyond). But now appears associated with Parkinson’s disease.
There is a chemical product, very common, widely used for about 100 years, which turns out to be associated with cases of Parkinson’s, the brain condition that grows the most in the world.
The University of Rochester, one of the institutions involved in the study in question, explains that the product in question is trichlorethylene (TCE).
It has been used to decaffeinate coffee, degrease metals and dry clean clothes. It is very popular in dry cleaning of clothes – it replaces water.
On the other hand, it is a danger to public health. In addition to contamination, of being a toxic product, the article published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease leaves the hypothesis: it could be an invisible agent that causes Parkinson’s.
TBI was previously associated with cancer, miscarriages and congenital heart disease – but now, researchers say, it increases the risk of Parkinson’s by 500%.
Seven cases are focused on, including a former basketball player who was in the NBA (Brian Grant, diagnosed at age 36), or a deceased US senator (Johnny Isakso, diagnosed in 2015, about 50 years after having worked on the force Georgia Air Force, where TCE was used to degrease planes). All with Parkinson’s, probably because they worked closely with that chemical, or because they were exposed to TCE. In all cases, symptoms appeared decades after exposure to the chemical solvent.
Decades ago, this solvent began to be used in different contexts: removing ink, correcting typing errors, cleaning engines and anesthetizing patients. Applied in millions of cases and millions of euros were spent around it.
In the United States of America alone, it is estimated that around 10 million people worked directly with the chemical or other similar industrial solvents.
Over the last 50 years, trichlorethylene has been disappearing from homes. But it continues to be used for degreasing metals and dry cleaning. And, for example, in Silicon Valley, California, it is used to clean electronic components and computer chips. And it also exists on military bases.
Precisely 50 years ago, studies began to emerge linking TBI with Parkinson’s. Scientists have shown that TCE easily enters the brain and body tissues and, in high doses, damages the energy-producing parts of cells, the mitochondria.
Early animal investigations showed that TBI causes selective loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells – a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease in humans.
In this recent investigation, experts warn that even those who have never worked directly with TBI are at high risk of developing Parkinson’s because they cross paths with the chemical unknowingly: through external air, contaminated groundwater and indoor air pollution.
TCE can contaminate soil and groundwater leading to underground rivers, or plumes, which can extend over long distances and migrate over time.
In addition, trichlorethylene can easily evaporate and enter people’s homes, schools and workplaces, often undetected – and this is a big problem because, logically, you will be endangering millions of people who are usually close to former dry cleaning facilities, or former military and industrial facilities.
“For more than a century, TCE has threatened workers, polluted the air we breathe – outside and inside – and contaminated the water we drink. Global use is growing, not declining,” the scientists warn.