Scientists Warn: Common Cleaning Chemical Linked to 500% Increased Risk of Parkinson’s Disease

Man With Cleaning Products

Trichloroethylene, a common and widely used chemical, may be fueling the rise in Parkinson’s disease. The chemical, which is sometimes used in industrial solvents, commercial dry cleaners, and some household products like cleaning wipes, paint removers, and carpet cleaners, is associated with a 500% increased risk of Parkinson’s.

A common and widely used chemical may be fueling the rise of the world’s fastest-growing brain condition – Parkinson’s disease. For the past 100 years, trichloroethylene (TCE) has been used to decaffeinate coffee, degrease metal, and dry clean clothes. It contaminates the Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune, 15 toxic Superfund sites in Silicon Valley, and up to one-third of groundwater in the U.S. TCE causes cancer, is linked to miscarriages and congenital heart disease, and is associated with a 500% increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.

According to the National Cancer Institute, TCE is present in some household products, including cleaning wipes, aerosol cleaning products, tool cleaners, paint removers, spray adhesives, carpet cleaners, and spot removers.

In a hypothesis paper published today (March 14) in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, an international team of researchers—including University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) neurologists Ray Dorsey, MD, Ruth Schneider, MD, and Karl Kieburtz, MD—postulate that TCE may be an invisible cause of Parkinson’s. In the paper, they detail the widespread use of the chemical, the evidence linking the toxicant to Parkinson’s, and profile seven individuals, ranging from a former NBA basketball player to a Navy captain to a late U.S. Senator, who developed Parkinson’s disease either after likely working with the chemical or being exposed to it in the environment.

A ubiquitous and widespread industrial pollutant

TCE was a widely used solvent employed in a number of industrial, consumer, military, and medical applications, including to remove paint, correct typewriting mistakes, clean engines, and anesthetize patients. Its use in the U.S. peaked in the 1970’s, when more than 600 million pounds of the chemical—or two pounds per American—were manufactured annually. Some 10 million Americans worked with the chemical or other similar industrial solvents. While domestic use has since fallen, TCE is still used for degreasing metal and spot dry cleaning in the U.S.

Dry Cleaning

Among numerous other uses, trichloroethylene (TCE) is commonly used by commercial dry cleaners as a spot remover.

TCE contaminates countless sites across the country. Half of the most toxic Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund sites contain TCE. Fifteen sites are in California’s Silicon Valley where the chemicals were used to clean electronics and computer chips. TCE is found in numerous military bases, including Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. From the 1950s to the 1980s a million Marines, their families, and civilians that worked or resided at the base were exposed to drinking water levels of TCE and perchloroethylene (PCE), a close chemical cousin, that were up to 280 times above what is considered safe levels.

TCE and Parkinson’s disease

The connection between TCE and Parkinson’s was first hinted at in case studies more than 50 years ago. In the intervening years, research in mice and rats have shown that TCE readily enters the brain and body tissue and at high doses damages the energy-producing parts of cells known as mitochondria. In animal studies, TCE causes selective loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells, a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease in humans.

Individuals who worked directly with TCE have an elevated risk of developing Parkinson’s. However, the authors warn that “millions more encounter the chemical unknowingly through outdoor air, contaminated groundwater, and indoor air pollution.”

The chemical can contaminate soil and groundwater leading to underground rivers, or plumes, that can extend over long distances and migrate over time. One such plume associated with an aerospace company on Long Island, New York, is over four miles long and two miles wide, and has contaminated the drinking water of thousands. Others are found everywhere from Shanghai, China, to Newport Beach, California.

Beyond their risks to water, the volatile TCE can readily evaporate and enter people’s homes, schools, and work places, often undetected. Today, this vapor intrusion is likely exposing millions who live, learn, and work near former dry cleaning, military, and industrial sites to toxic indoor air. Vapor intrusion was first reported in the 1980s when radon was found to evaporate from soil and enter homes and increase the risk of lung cancer. Today millions of homes are tested for radon, but few are for the cancer-causing TCE.

Decades before symptoms appear

The piece profiles seven individuals where TCE may have contributed to their Parkinson’s disease. While the evidence linking TCE exposure to Parkinson’s disease in these individuals is circumstantial, their stories highlight the challenges of building the case against chemical. In these cases, decades have often passed between exposure to TCE and the onset of Parkinson’s symptoms.

The case studies include the professional basketball player Brian Grant, who played for 12 years in the NBA, and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 36. Grant was likely exposed to TCE when he was three years old and his father, then a Marine, was stationed at Camp Lejeune. Grant has created a foundation to inspire and support people with the disease.

Amy Lindberg was similarly exposed to the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune while serving as a young Navy Captain and would go on to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 30 years later. The piece details others whose exposure was the result of living close to a contaminated site or working with the chemical, including the late U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, who stepped down from office after a Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2015. Fifty years earlier, he served in the Georgia Air National Guard, which used TCE to degrease airplanes.

Addressing the threat to public health

The authors note that “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 waxing, not waning.”

The authors proscribe a series of actions to address the public health threat posed by TCE. They note that contaminated sites can be successfully remediated and indoor air exposure can be mitigated by vapor remediation systems similar to those used for radon. However, the U.S. alone is home to thousands of contaminated sites and this process of cleaning and containment must be accelerated.

They argue for more research to better understand how TCE contributes to Parkinson’s and other diseases. TCE levels in groundwater, drinking water, soil, and outdoor and indoor air require closer monitoring and this information needs to be shared with those who live and work near polluted sites.

In addition, the authors call for finally ending the use of these chemicals in the U.S. PCE is still widely used today in dry cleaning and TCE in vapor degreasing. Two states, Minnesota and New York, have banned TCE, but the federal government has not, despite findings by the EPA as recently at 2022 that the chemicals pose “an unreasonable risk to human health.”

Reference: “Trichloroethylene: An Invisible Cause of Parkinson’s Disease?” by E. Ray Dorsey, Maryam Zafar, Samantha E. Lettenberger, Meghan E. Pawlik, Dan Kinel, Myrthe Frissen, Ruth B. Schneider, Karl Kieburtz, Caroline M. Tanner, Briana R. Miranda, Samuel M. Goldman, and Bastiaan R. Bloem, 14 March 2023, Journal of Parkinson’s Disease.
DOI: 10.3233/JPD-225047

Additional authors include the paper’s co-first author, Maryam Zafar, now a student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Samantha Lettenberger, Meghan Pawlik, and Dan Kinel with URMC, Bastiaan Bloem and Myrthe Frissen with Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, Caroline Tanner and Samuel Goldman with the University of California-San Francisco, and Briana De Miranda with the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

30 Comments on "Scientists Warn: Common Cleaning Chemical Linked to 500% Increased Risk of Parkinson’s Disease"

  1. Usefuljournalism | March 14, 2023 at 1:52 pm | Reply

    So what products use TCE? Great article….for clickbait

    • As the EPA Fact Sheet on Trichloroethylene (TCE) says, “product names and ingredients change.” Check the label on relevant products you may have, especially degreasers, carpet cleaners, and spot removers.

      • Not one mention of specific products containing this chemical. The US needs to get its act together and stop allowing chemicals like this to poison us! The stuff they still allow in food that is known to be seriously harmful is downright shameful

    • This is a great opportunity for you to add a useful comment that offers the names of those products. This information is offered for you to help yourself and get started on your own journey gathering and sharing helpful information. Useful comments are not the same as journalism and journalism is not the provision of household tips.

    • Attention advertisiers why do you think that I’m going to give you all my information before you even give me a price how foolish is that it’s like open your wallet and we’ll take what we want stupid

  2. TG for your service. I feel like a kindergartener, brand-new to science. This first week has been a whirlwind attack on my callousness. U is my hero.

  3. Carlton Colmenares | March 15, 2023 at 2:47 am | Reply

    Typo with PCE instead of TCE: In addition, the authors call for finally ending the use of these chemicals in the U.S. PCE is still widely used today in dry cleaning and TCE in vapor degreasing.

  4. Joyce E. Cartwright | March 15, 2023 at 2:51 am | Reply

    Holy shiitakes! Is there ANYTHING chemical manufacturers haven’t tried using to pull the wool over our eyes where the general public’s health safety is concerned? I’ve used dry cleaners maybe 5-6 times in the last 35-40 years, but almost everyone has used various cleaning products listed which contain these carcinogenic and debilitating mental/motor function chemicals! WHY hasn’t our watchdog for these types of infractions–the EPA–been more vocal? I certainly don’t remember having read anything about this. It would have been nice to have the option whether to use these or an alternatively more natural product for cleaning. Is there ANYwhere in America now that is safe from these harmful chemicals? NOW it seems we may not need to worry about World War III, invasion by aliens from another galaxy, or Covid. We will destroy ourselves. Billions on Planet Earth will perish–NOT because of ignorance, but because of GREED!! Heaven help us all.

  5. Thank you for this interesting article. I’m a half way to read so far though I really appreciate your efforts. Not only Americans,.. people doesn’t care about their environment and that’s means about themselves as well.

  6. Very informative article. Now I am concerned about my upcoming anesthesia. I planning to talk to my surgeon about this. Thank you.

  7. Michael Parker USMC | March 15, 2023 at 7:55 am | Reply

    How is it that they are just postulating this connection? All you have to do is look at how many Marines were at Camp LeJeune between 1953-1987. The facts speak for themselves. My best friend and I joined the Marine Corp in 1976. We were both stationed at Camp Lejeune from 1977-1979. If you look at the forensic graph that was created (now kept from public scrutiny) (TCE) was in our water at over 4000ppm. My best friend died of Parkinson’s disease at a very young age and I have 23 various Neurological Diseases that have plagued me since 2012. EVEN THE MSDS warning on documented material indicates that (TCE) aka Perc will destroy the Central & Peripheral Nervous Systems. They knew this 50 years ago.

    • EXACTLY!!!!

    • Last weekend, I saw a friend who served in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune during the 1960s and has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He has received a designation of the condition as service-connected through the VA.

      I’m also familiar with the wife of a former co-worker who died of cancer after she served there. The health effects of the contamination there are far-reaching.

  8. Wow, my husband died of cancer in 2014. He was in Korea where they used Agent Orange. They also gave every other soldier a shot in their tongue when they landed and the troops left the plane. When they asked what that was for, they said food born illnesses. He had cancer of the tongue and other cancer. He started loosing teeth at a young age. He was 18 when he went to Korea on the DMZ. He was also exposed to asbestos.

  9. So basically everything we’ve been using for the past 50 years or so has exposed us to tce so it’s just a matter of time. Father, grandfather and grandson have all been exposed. This article has no silver lining whatsoever. We’re all doomed to develop alzheimers.

  10. Christine Y. M. S | March 15, 2023 at 11:32 am | Reply

    OMG,, reading these comments my heart goes out to all these people. Such a sad reality we face, before my mom passed away, she said, I swear, mankind will destroy themselves. I have already come to realize how true and tragic this is. May the Lord help us all.

  11. Too often, our military does not have the best interest of our troops as individuals. Millions were needlessly exposed to mercury, asbestos, TCE, PFAS, Agent Orange and many others. Flawed chain of command decisions can cause massive and often catastrophic failures when political decision making, personal egos, and just plain greed take priority. For the record, I have several family members that served honorably in the US military. While I have never served, I firmly believe that EVERYONE (with very few and limited exceptions) should be required to do “service for our country”, either 2 years military or 4 years in a service organization such as the Peace Corp. God bless America.

  12. Thanks to these horrible chemicals in plumes under the street I lived on in Phoenix Arizona, I lost my little boy when he was only 8 years old. The saddest thing about it all is nobody has done a damn thing!

  13. Thank you! I worked in a TV plant for 9 months during a college break. We cleaned pc circuit boards with this horrible smelling stuff! I can remember asking for ventilation or a fan, to no avail. The company didn’t listen, I quit. Many others worked there in this stuff for years! Sad.

  14. It was also called PD-680, type II, Dry Cleaning Fluid. The Air Force used it as a degreaser for years and finally outlawed it in the early 90’s. We practically bathed in that stuff while washing aircraft ans in-shop decreasing agent!

  15. My brother-in-law worked at a hospital on Long Island as head of the maintenance department for 30 + years and had to retire due to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. He suffered over 15 years and succumbed to the disease on January 13, 2023. He worked with lots of chemicals and this one may have been one of them, who knows. Something I’d like to find out.

  16. Doug DeNunzio | March 16, 2023 at 7:24 pm | Reply

    Nice to know what that is.

  17. I agree not one product was mentioned that has this chemical in it. So what the hell are they be nice to know so people can take the precautions necessary. Damn geniuses we are more than guinea pigs.

  18. For those complaining about the article not providing specific products…be proactive.

    How about taking an hour to go through your house, garage, shed, etc., and check your products. If you are that concerned DYOR! Don’t be lazy and expect someone else to tell you in a piece of content!

  19. I knew there was a benefit to being lazy 😂. Now also an excuse. Cleaning products always gave me allergies anyways so most of the time it’s just water and a paper towel.

  20. To Charles- thank you for your observation. I also think the article should contain A FULL LIST OF CURRENTLY USED PRODUCTS which contain TCE or other dangerous chemicals. Otherwise it only causes DANGEROUS STRESS AND FEAR.I am now disabled from “non-symptomatic” COVID-19 in MARCH 2020! I am in a Long Term Care Facility in CA because of it. Avoid Covid at all cost bc of the Chronic Post Covid Conditions.
    I will get a HEPA filter today on Amazon. Tell others: #COVIDisAirborne #CovidIsntOver check these hashtags on Twitter. Yes Twitter. It works! Michael, you don’t have a right to present your ABLIST ATTITUDE here or elsewhere – ABLISM and PATERNALISM is ☆VIOLENCE☆. Try to have a nice day.

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