Cancer-Causing TCE Threatens U.S. Water Supplies
By Sara Jerome
A cancer-causing industrial solvent known as TCE continues to threaten the water supply in Michigan even though the government has been trying to address the problem for years, a scenario that is hardly unique to that part of the country.
New infrastructure, including wells, has been constructed in Knapp, MI in the last decade to safeguard local drinking water sources, costing millions of dollars. But TCE "continues to vex state officials and residents as it creeps toward new wells that Knapp and others dug to replace tainted ones," Environmental Health News reported.
TCE stands for "tricholorethylene." State and local officials are still unclear on how to resolve the problem.
“There’s no silver bullet to take care of this thing,” said Scott Kendzierski, director of environmental health services at the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. “It’s just a monster.”
But TCE is not just a state and local problem. This solvent is on the federal government's radar as well.
Safe Water Drinking Act regulations, administered by the EPA, set the non-enforceable maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for TCE at zero, but the enforceable maximum contaminant level (MCL) is 0.005 mg/L or 5 ppb. The slight allowance is for practical purposes, as the EPA explains: "MCLs are set as close to the health goals as possible, considering cost, benefits and the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies."
However, the dangers of TCE — "problems with the liver and...an increased risk of getting cancer," according to the EPA — has prompted the agency to include it as part of its Six-Year Review of Drinking Water Standards.
TCE is largely spread by means of discharge from factories, commonly used as a solvent for a variety of organic materials. While current regulations may do well to prevent further contamination, the larger problem is the remediation of environments that were polluted with TCE over the course of past decades. The root cause notwithstanding, the health concerns for affected communities persist.
What should water suppliers do if TCE is found in the water? The EPA has a specific protocol.
"Water suppliers must notify their customers as soon as practical, but no later than 30 days after the system learns of the violation. Additional actions, such as providing alternative drinking water supplies, may be required to prevent serious risks to public health," EPA literature said.
The situation in Michigan is not unique. The EPA, state, and local regulators are monitoring TCE in various industrial areas around the country.
For instance, near St. Louis, MO, the EPA is examining whether TCE is threatening the water supply. Testing showed this month that the solvent had spread wider than the EPA anticipated.
Locals are concerned about health effects and about the potential for their property value to plummet, according to the St. Louis Dispatch.
For case studies on TCE published to Water Online, click here.
Image credit: "Ben Fredericson," © 2008 Industrial, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en