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Bipolar Disorder, PTSD Linked to PCE in Drinking Water

Drinking water

Exposure to tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PCE), a common byproduct of the textile industry, in drinking water early in life has been associated with bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia in later life. This finding was released in a study that appears in the recent issue of Environmental Health.

Your drinking water may harbor dangerous chemicals

Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) is a colorless organic liquid that is used extensively in the dry cleaning industry and is also used to clean metals. The Environmental Protection Agency has set an enforceable regulation for tetrachloroethylene (a maximum contaminant level [MCL]) of 0.005 mg/L or 5 ppb (parts per billion).

It’s been known for many years that exposure to drinking water containing tetrachloroethylene in excess of the MCL over time can result in liver problems and an increased risk of cancer. Now a new study has revealed that early exposure to the chemical in drinking water has an impact on the occurrence of bipolar disorder, PTSD, and schizophrenia among adults.

The study included 1,512 individuals who were born between 1969 and 1983, of which 831 people had exposure to PCE both prenatal and during early childhood, and 547 people who had not been exposed to the chemical. The authors assessed exposure to PCE from the vinyl-lined water distribution pipes that had been installed by water companies in Massachusetts from 1968 until the early 1980s.

Individuals who had experienced prenatal and early childhood exposure to PCE had a 1.8-fold increased risk of bipolar disorder, a 2.1-fold increased risk of schizophrenia, and a 1.5-fold increased risk of PTSD. Generally, the higher the level of exposure, the greater the risk of each of these mental conditions.

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The cause of bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive disorder, appears to have a genetic component. However, as the National Institutes of Mental Health notes, “it is likely that many different genes and a person’s environment are involved” in causing this disorder.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that affects some people who have witnessed or lived through a traumatic or dangerous event. Recently, the focus on PTSD has revolved around soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, who experience the mental illness at high rates.

About 1 percent of the population has schizophrenia, a severe, chronic brain disorder in which people experience hallucinations and delusions. These symptoms typically begin between ages 16 and 30, and the disease is rare among children.

The authors concluded that their findings concerning PCE “provide support for an impact of early life exposure on the risk of bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.” Schizophrenia was not included in this statement because the number of cases was too low to allow for reliable conclusions.

Aschengrau A, Weinberg JM Janulewicz PA, Romano ME, Gallagher LG, Winter MR, Martin BR, Vieira VM, Webster TF, White RF, Ozonoff DM. Occurrence of mental illness following prenatal and early childhood exposure to tetrachloroethylene (PCE)-contaminated drinking water: a retrospective cohort study. Environmental Health 2012; 11:2
Environmental Protection Agency
National Institute of Mental Health

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