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Parkinson's Disease Linked to Cleaning Chemical Exposure


Two common cleaning chemicals have been linked to development of Parkinson’s disease, according to a study published in the Annals of Neurology. Researchers discovered up to a nearly tenfold increased risk of Parkinson’s associated with exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) and/or perchloroethylene (PERC).

Cleaning solutions may have toxic effects

The chemical solvent TCE is a nonflammable, colorless liquid that is mainly used to remove grease from metal parts, although it also can be found in paint removers, adhesives, and spot removers. Even though TCE does not occur naturally in the environment, it can be found in underground and surface water sources related to the manufacture, use, and disposal of the chemical.

Perchloroethylene also is a nonflammable, colorless liquid, and its primary use is dry cleaning fabrics and degreasing metals. PERC can also be found in aerosol products, printing inks, adhesives, sealants, paint removers, automotive cleaners, polishes, and lubricants.

The new research involved 99 sets of twins (half were identical, half fraternal), in which one of the pair had developed Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disease characterized by tremor, stiffness, impaired balance, and slowed movement. Twin studies are effective in testing for environmental influences, and in the case of Parkinson’s disease, fewer than 10% of cases are caused by a single gene mutation, which suggests environmental influences are a contributing factor.

Under direction of Samuel M. Goldman, MD, MPH, and Caroline Tanner, MD, PhD, at the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, California, a research team evaluated the twins’ work and hobby activities over their lifetimes, with special emphasis on situations in which they may have been exposed to chemicals previously linked to Parkinson’s disease. The chemicals included TCE, PERC, carbon tetrachloride, n-hexane, xylene, and toluene.

Other risk factors for the disease were also considered, including smoking and head injuries. The evaluators looked only at the data for each twin and did not know which individuals had Parkinson’s disease.

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Goldman reported that “Parkinson’s was sixfold more common in twins exposed to TCE, and ninefold more common in twins exposed to TCE or PERC.” Among twins exposed to PERC alone, there was a trend toward a tenfold increase in Parkinson’s disease.

The authors pointed out that there is “a lag time of up to 40 years between TCE exposure and onset of Parkinson’s,” which limits the types of studies investigators can perform in hopes of securing accurate data. They also noted that carbon tetrachloride “tended towards significant risk of developing the disease.”

This study was limited in that the evaluators looked only at the twins’ occupational exposure to the chemicals, yet both TCE and PERC are found outside industrial settings. TCE, for example, is the most often reported organic contaminant in groundwater, while PERC is the main chemical you can find on clothes you have dry cleaned.

TCE can remain in ground water for many years, and it has been identified in more than half of the 1,430 National Priorities List sites named by the Environmental Protection Agency. Drinking or breathing high levels of TCE may damage the liver, lungs, and nervous system, as well as cause abnormal heartbeat, coma, and even death.

The health impact of PERC is similar to that of TCE. PERC has also been listed as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” in the Twelfth Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program, because long-term exposure can cause leukemia and cancer of the skin, lungs, bladder, colon, urogenital tract, and larynx.

Tanner remarked that while the link between exposure to the cleaning chemicals and Parkinson’s disease appears strong in their study, future work with larger populations is necessary. “It will be important to replicate these results in additional populations with well-characterized exposure histories,” she noted.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Goldman SM et al. Annals of Neurology 2011 Nov 14; DOI: 10.1002/ana.22629
National Library of Medicine, Tox Town

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons



Why isn't TCE banned?
My father worked in dry cleaning for 40 years from the 1930's to 1970 when he was 62. He started showing Parkinson symptoms when he was 68. He was put on Sinamet which worked for a number of years. He was able to drive until he was 74. He died at 80 from the. Parkinson's and its side effects. He was also exposed to carbon tetrachloride and many other chemicals used for removing spots from fabrics. This occurred prior to OSHA and there was no-one concerned with workplace safety and proper ventilation. He also had a female cousin that worked in dry cleaning during the same period of time that also came down with Parkinson's. Prior to the 1970's, there was little concern about worker health and safety.
Sorry to hear about your father. It seems criminal that the public is exposed to thousands of chemical substances in everyday products and services, chemicals for which the impact on human health is virtually unresearched, unknown, and/or ignored. We are, and continue to be, guinea pigs.
I worked with Carbon tetra. every day for 15 years & now have developed Parkinsons Disease. It was on my hands , breathed the fumes due to cleaning down with compressed air at 95 psi.. Have written to employer with not even acknowledgement.. Awaiting developments to prove negligence, Major Engine Manufacturer.
I know of at least 3 local people with Parkinsons who were in the medical profession one was a nurse and two were vets. I wonder whether dealing with medication and cleaning of medical equipment be a cause?
My wife worked at a major aerospace facility, 1959-60-61. Her position as a filler operator near a high temp furnace (no mask or safety clothing), handling product (Perchlorethlylene) destined for use in missiles. She has suffered with neurological issues most of her adult life. In recent years began losing balance, followed by numerous falls/surgeries. Was diagnosed with Parkinsons two years ago. We are looking for help. Should we investigate negligence----will the EPA be of help?f
I am sorry to hear about your wife's neurological problems. Have you explained all of your wife's history in such a toxic environment to your physician? Perhaps he/she can help you with any possible pursuit of negligence. You might also consult an attorney who specializes in such situations, although that naturally may be costly. Since your wife's exposure to toxins was so many decades ago, it may be difficult to prove an association. Good luck to you.
My husbands name is Royce D Hickson, He was born in June of 1944. January 23, 1964 he Enlisted in the US Army, his Boot Camp was in Fort Polk. Louisiana. After Boot camp, he went into the Signal Coup school and then spent a year repairing communication radios in Korea. They used TCE with nylon gloves weekly . In Dec. 17 1965 he was temporarily reassigned to Fort Stewart, Georgia for 6 months. At this location he was a Turret Repairman, they used TCE with leather gloves not rubber gloves to clean the Cosmoline off the new Tank Turret parts before assembling them. This was a weekly accuracy using leather gloves not rubber gloves to perform this job. He has Parkinson's from the TCE exposure. I estimate his TCE exposure to be weekly for 2.5 years. He has 6 sibling and 2 parents that never had Parkinson's. His dad and 3 of his siblings were also in the military, but did not get exposed to TCE. January 20, 1967 Honorably Discharged, from Fort Knox, Georgia We have been together sense Labor Day weekend 1974. I noticed that weekend a trimmer in the bone of his left hand below the thumb of his of his left hand when we held hands that weekend. Royce is right handed. When he was in the Army cleaning the tank turret parts, his left hand was used to hold the parts (constant contact) while his right hand cleaned the parts. I have witnessed the Parkinson's take over his body over the last 42+ years, from left to right, more so in the last 10 years. Why do we have go to a non-VA connected reaserch nueraligical specialist to prove his exposure in the Army!
We (ALL) need to be vigilant in sharing our experiences. EPA.Gov has classified tetrachlorethlene as likely to be carcinogenic to humans. Also Internationa lAgencyfor Research (IARC has published this research. ToxTown also covers perchloroethylene (PCE, PERC). Science Daily (10 January 2012) has published a Univ. of Kentucky study linking TCE/PERC to the development of Parkinsons following theinterview of 99 twin pairs from the National Academy of Sciences/NationalResearch Council World War II Veteran Twins Cohurt in which one twin had Parkinsons and one didn't.