Parkinson’s disease may be caused by the common chemicals

A widely used for degreasing metal and dry cleaning clothes substance is linked to the development of the Parkinson's disease.

Maria Zavialova

The utilization of a chemical substance commonly found in the industry may be a contributing factor to the spread of Parkinson’s disease. This is a debilitating brain disorder with one of the fastest-growing prevalence rates globally. The substance is known as trichloroethylene (TCE).

What is trichloroethylene

TCE is a simple six-atom solvent consisting of two carbons, one hydrogen, and three chlorines. Its properties include transparency, colorlessness, volatility, nonflammability, and environmental stability. First synthesized in 1864, commercial production began in the 1920s. Since then, it has found extensive use across a variety of industries. That includes military, medical, commercial, and industrial applications such as the production of refrigerants, electronics cleaning, and degreasing of engine parts.

Due to its evaporation capabilities and non-residual nature on fabrics, TCE has been used in dry cleaning since the 1930s. In the 1950s, perchloroethylene (PCE), a closely related chemical compound with one additional chlorine atom, largely replaced TCE in dry cleaning. However, under anaerobic conditions, PCE often converts to TCE, and their toxicity can be similar.

TCE was also used as an anesthetic, particularly during childbirth. Then, it was banned in most developed countries in the food and pharmaceutical industries after its carcinogenic nature was established. TCE is known to cause cancer. It has been associated with an increased risk of miscarriages, congenital heart defects. Eventually, it has been linked to a staggering 500% increase in the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Trichloroethylene and the Parkinson’s disease

An international team of researchers has published a hypothesis paper in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease. In the paper, they suggest that TCE, a chemical commonly used in various industries, may be a hidden contributor to Parkinson’s disease. The researchers have profiled seven individuals who have developed Parkinson’s disease. It includes a former NBA basketball player, a Navy captain, and a late U.S. Senator, who were likely exposed to TCE either in their work or in the environment. The paper highlights the extensive use of TCE and the evidence linking it to the development of Parkinson’s disease.

More than 50 years ago, studies first suggested a potential connection between Parkinson’s disease and TCE. Lately, studies on mice and rats have demonstrated that TCE can easily enter the brain and body tissues. When administered in high doses, TCE causes damage to mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles in cells. Furthermore, animal studies indicate that TCE selectively damages nerve cells that produce dopamine, a characteristic feature of Parkinson’s disease in humans.

Trichloroethylene spreads through groundwater

Individuals who work with TCE directly are at an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. However, the authors caution that “millions of other people may be exposed to this chemical unknowingly, through outdoor air, contaminated groundwater, and indoor air.”

TCE can contaminate soil and groundwater, leading to its widespread dissemination over long distances. One such plume associated with an aerospace company on Long Island stretches over four miles long and two miles wide and has contaminated the drinking water of thousands of people. Other plumes can be found across the world. In Ukraine, TCE is also utilized and can be purchased freely.

Parkinson’s disease can develop decades after exposure to trichloroethylene

The article recounts the experiences of seven individuals whose Parkinson’s disease may have been caused by exposure to TCE. The evidence linking TCE and Parkinson’s in these cases is not direct. Nevertheless, their stories shed light on the challenges of building a case against chemical substances. Often, decades elapse between TCE exposure and the onset of Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

One such case is that of former NBA player, Brian Grant, who played for 12 years before being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 36. Grant is believed to have been exposed to TCE at the age of three, while his father, a Marine at the time, served at Camp Lejeune. There, high levels of trichloroethylene were detected. In response to his diagnosis, Grant established a foundation to inspire and support those living with the disease.

Another example is Amy Lindberg, who was also exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune during her service in the Navy. Three decades later, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The article chronicles the experiences of other individuals who were exposed to TCE through their work with the chemical or by residing in contaminated areas. Notably, the article discusses the late US Senator Johnny Isakson. He has retired from politics after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015. Isakson served in the Georgia Air National Guard 50 years earlier, which used TCE to degrease airplane parts.

Solving the problem of TCE contamination

The report’s authors put forth a set of measures to eradicate the threat to public health posed by TCE. While acknowledging that contaminated sites can be restored and indoor air quality can be improved using vapor mitigation systems, similar to those employed for radon. They also underscore the fact that thousands of polluted sites exist only in the US, and the process of cleanup and containment must be expedited.

They advocate for further research to gain a better understanding of how TCE impacts the development of Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses. It is crucial to monitor levels of TCE in groundwater, drinking water, soil, outdoor and indoor air more diligently. It’s crucial to share this information with those residing and working near contaminated areas.

Furthermore, the authors implore the US to cease the use of these chemicals once and for all.

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