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National Public Health Week Trichloroethylene – TCE

Chicago Heights neighborhood of Overland

Statement from the DOH:

In December of 2013, the Saint Louis County Department of Health received a report from the Environmental Protection Agency that detailed a serious environmental problem in the Chicago Heights neighborhood of Overland. That problem is the presence of a chemical called trichloroethylene – or TCE for short. The report found that elevated levels of TCE exist in many places in the Chicago Heights neighborhood requiring the immediate action of the public health community.

Earlier this year, the Saint Louis County Department of Health conducted a health survey in the Chicago Heights neighborhood to determine the health status of that community. This included not only current residents of the community, but past residents as well. The final report from that assessment can be found at the top of this page.

FAQ’s for interested parties:

What is TCE?

TCE is trichloroethylene. It is a non-flammable, colorless liquid. It was used as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts and can also be found in adhesives, paint removers, and spot removers.

Why is there TCE in Chicago Heights?

At one time, a company that used to be located in the Chicago Heights area used TCE as part of their operations. Some of the TCE used at that time leaked into the groundwater in the area, causing the contamination.

How would I be exposed to TCE in Chicago Heights?

TCE is able to evaporate. After the groundwater underneath the Chicago Heights area was contaminated with TCE, it began to evaporate, entering homes through the basement. If you live in the Chicago Heights neighborhood, it is possible that you have been exposed to TCE by breathing air containing evaporated TCE.

Why is there a concern about TCE now?

In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted tests in the Chicago Heights neighborhood to determine the level of TCE contamination. The report of those tests was given to the Saint Louis County Department of Health in December 2013. It shows elevated levels of TCE in the area.

Since the TCE is in the groundwater, is it safe to drink the water coming from the faucets in my home?

Yes, it is safe to drink the water coming from your taps. All the water being delivered into homes in Elmwood Park is being piped in by the American Water Company and meets all safety requirements needed to ensure safe drinking water. The water coming from the pipes is not being pumped from the groundwater under Elmwood Park.

Is it safe to eat fruits and vegetables grown in a garden in Elmwood Park?

It is safe to eat produce grown in a garden in Elmwood Park. TCE cannot be absorbed through the root system and will therefore not be found in the fruits and vegetables that you eat. As with all produce – even that from a grocery store – it is recommended that you wash everything before consuming it.

What is the Saint Louis County Department of Health doing about the situation?

Earlier this year, the Saint Louis County Department of Health conducted a health survey in the Chicago Heights neighborhood to determine the health status of that community. This included not only current residents of the community, but past residents as well. That report is at the top of this page.

How can TCE affect my health or the health of my children?

It depends on the amount a person is exposed to and over how long a period of time. Other things that have to be considered are age, body size, and other existing health issues. If enough exposure to TCE occurs, studies have found the following possible links:

  • Heart defects in fetuses if the mother is exposed to TCE during pregnancy
  • Auto-immune disorders
  • Kidney damage
  • Kidney cancer, liver cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • However, it is important to remember that these problems only develop if enough exposure occurs. That is why the Saint Louis County Department of Health is conducting the free health screenings for residents.

    Additional Resources

    Chicago Heights Boulevard Site

    Missouri Department of Natural Resources – Hazardous Waste Program website for the Missouri Metals – Elmwood Park Neighborhood:
    http://dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/sfund/missourimetals-elmwoodpark.htm

    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Elmwood Park Neighborhood, Chicago Heights Boulevard VOC Plume Site Health Consultation (December 2, 2013):
    http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/pha/ChicagoHeights/Revised-Chicago%20Heights%20_%20HC%20(final)%20_%2006-04-2014_508.pdf  

    ATSDR and Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (MDHSS) Health Consultation – Review of Basement Sampling Data (August 8, 2001):
    http://health.mo.gov/living/environment/hazsubstancesites/pdf/ChicagoHeights2001.pdf  

    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 7 cleanup site information – sampling and analysis plan, fact sheets, Community Advisory Group (CAG) presentations, and news releases:
    http://www.epa.gov/rgytgrnj/cleanup/chicago_heights/index.htm

    EPA Map of the Chicago Heights Boulevard Site (included in this report as Appendix A):
    http://www.epa.gov/rgytgrnj/cleanup/chicago_heights/pdf/chicago_heights_map.pdf  

    EPA Questions and Answers from Community Advisory Group (CAG), June 2013:
    http://www.epa.gov/region7/cleanup/chicago_heights/pdf/chicago_heights_faq.pdf  

    Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

    ATSDR Toxicological Profile for TCE:
    http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp.asp?id=173&tid=30

    EPA – Air Toxics Web Site: Trichloroethylene:
    http://www.epa.gov/airtoxics/hlthef/tri-ethy.html

    An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality – Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs):
    http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html