Cambridge, the City of Water Contamination, Region of Water Pollution, What is Trichloroethylene (TCE)? We have plenty of it in Cambridge.

By  | December 5, 2014 | 3 Comments | Filed under: Cambridge's Dirty Drinking Water

Pioneered by Imperial Chemical Industries in Britain, its development was hailed as an anesthetic revolution. Originally thought to possess less hepatotoxicity than chloroform, and without the unpleasant pungency and flammability of ether, TCE use was nonetheless soon found to have several pitfalls. These included promotion of cardiac arrhythmias, low volatility and high solubility preventing quick anesthetic induction, reactions with soda lime used in carbon dioxide absorbing systems, prolonged neurologic dysfunction when used with soda lime, and evidence of hepatotoxicity as had been found with chloroform.

The introduction of halothane in 1956 greatly diminished the use of TCE as a general anesthetic. TCE was still used as an inhalation analgesic in childbirth given by self-administration. Fetal toxicity and concerns for carcinogenic potential of TCE led to its abandonment in developed countries by the 1980s.

Due to concerns about its toxicity, the use of trichloroethylene in the food and pharmaceutical industries has been banned in much of the world since the 1970s. Legislation has forced the substitution of trichloroethylene in many processes in Europe as the chemical was classified as a carcinogen carrying an R45 risk phrase, May cause cancer. Many degreasing chemical alternatives are being promoted such as Ensolv and Leksol; however, each of these is based on n-propyl bromide which carries an R60 risk phrase of May impair fertility, and they would not be a legally acceptable substitute.

Groundwater contamination by TCE has become an important environmental concern for human exposure.

In 2005 it was announced by the United States Environmental Protection Agency that the agency had completed its Final Health Assessment for Trichloroethylene and released a list of new TCE toxicity values. The results of the study have formally characterized the chemical as a human carcinogen and a non-carcinogenic health hazard. A 2011 toxicological review performed by the EPA continues to list trichloroethylene as a known carcinogen.

The symptoms of acute non-medical exposure are similar to those of alcohol intoxication, beginning with headache, dizziness, and confusion and progressing with increasing exposure to unconsciousness. Respiratory and circulatory depression can result in death.

Some are exposed to TCE through contaminated drinking water. With a specific gravity greater than 1, trichloroethylene can be present as a dense nonaqueous phase liquid if sufficient quantities are spilled in the environment. Another significant source of vapor exposure in Superfund sites that had contaminated groundwater, such as the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant, was by showering. TCE readily volatilizes out of hot water and into the air. Long, hot showers would then volatilize more TCE into the air. In a home closed tightly to conserve the cost of heating and cooling, these vapors would then recirculate.

Chlorides are another contaminant that causes issues. Development in West Galt will introduce a significant increase of chloride into our protected water source as well as being discharged in to our protected wetlands.  This will have irreparable and costly negative effects to these natural resources and our health.

So knowing more about the contaminants that currently exist in our cities own drinking water source, what can be done to ensure no further contaminants are fed in to the water we need for survival.

The groundwater source located in West Galt is recognized as being an area of “high risk for contamination” by the Grand River Conservation Authority. Development will have a negative impact to our drinking water.  The proposal for the Highland Ridge West development will be approved by the Regional Planning Department in the near future.

Write your concerns to Regional Council and to the Regional Planning Department, c/o Rob Horne.

Write these same concerns to Cambridge Council in regards to the Cambridge West MESP proposal that will have an even greater impact on further contamination to our drinking water source.


Each and every voice is an important voice, as combined we can make a difference, for the betterment of future generations, for better health and to protect our natural resources.


It all starts at the source.



3 Responses to Cambridge, the City of Water Contamination, Region of Water Pollution, What is Trichloroethylene (TCE)? We have plenty of it in Cambridge.

    Teri December 5, 2014 at 10:08 pm

    This explains the poor mental health of so many in our city. When will people start to realize that we have to put a stop to all of what is happening. Does it take a loved one dying to get people to speak up? I would hope not. I think it’s about time we take control back of our city and demand that it be cleaned up. We need our money to go to the important things that matter even if they can not be seen like a sports stadium or a high tech library.

    Bill December 5, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    A map showing the extent of TCE contamination in Cambridge shows that it is adjacent to our protected drinking water source in West Galt. Natural groundwater flow can spread the contaminants over a wide area. The development that is being proposed in West Galt is considered to be at high risk of contamination by the GRCA. The contaminants will be discharged in to protected wetlands and our drinking water.

    The current method to test for contamination includes drilling some boreholes which may result in few soil samples and limited groundwater assessment. This is prone to error and often misses many potential contamination problems

    The Region of Waterloo has one of the highest percentage rates for cancer, and mental illness is growing as well as other illnesses.

    TCE can be dangerous as a vapor … it can migrate out of soil in places like crawl spaces and basements. People also are exposed to the vapor during showers. That’s an issue that often gets ignored.

    A Human Health Impact Study can give better results.

  3. Debbie Duff Vitez December 6, 2014 at 1:42 am

    Welcome Teri,

    Please read the category section on here.. TCE and Cambridge’s dirty drinking water..
    I have been complaining for years now..

    The toxins in our drinking water, are causing major health issues in this city..

    I personally found an illness in just about every home (out of 400 )in the Bishop Street community alone..

    City hall have known for years about the damage industry has been doing to our drinking water as far back as 1992..

    and yet they are going to destroy more Wetlands on the west side to accommodate another developer! Take back our city is a great idea..

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