Long-term exposure to tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PCE), a chemical solvent that often occurs as a contaminant in drinking water, is known to cause cancer and other serious health issues. A recent study conducted by researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) has linked prenatal exposure to tetrachloroethylene or exposure to PCE in early childhood to long-term visual impairment, especially with regards to color discrimination.
The researchers found that people who where exposed to high levels of PCE during fetal and early childhood development stages (i.e. prenatal up to five years old) were less able to discriminate colors than people who were not exposed to PCE during their early childhood. The research paper, which was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (11 July 2012), recommends that further investigation is needed to better understand how PCE exposure can lead to long-term, irreversible visual impairment.
The team of researchers assessed the visual abilities of a sample group of people born between the years 1969-1983 to parents who were residents of eight towns within the Cape Cod region of Massachusetts. The drinking water of all eight towns was contaminated with PCE due to water pipes being lined with a vinyl lining that was not properly cured.
PCE – a known neurotoxin – was used to apply vinyl lining to drinking water pipes. It is estimated that during the 1970s over 600 miles of these vinyl-lined drinking water pipes were installed in approximately 100 towns and cities across Massachusetts. PCE leached into the water flowing through the pipes contaminating drinking water supplied to residents of these towns.
Earlier studies conducted by Ann Aschengrau, a professor of epidemiology at BUSPH, showed links between PCE exposure and reproductive and developmental problems, as well as cancer. These earlier studies revealed that PCE exposure was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, as well as birth defects .
When conducting vision tests, the researchers found that people who were exposed to PCE in early childhood had more difficulty discriminating between colors than those who where not exposed to PCE in their developmental years. Furthermore, they found that people with high exposure levels to PCE exhibited the greatest level of confusion discriminating between colors. This is not the first study to identify PCE exposure to problems with color discrimination; occupational exposure to PCE has been associated with difficulties in color discrimination in adults. However, according to Aschengrau, this study is the first to document “the associations between prenatal and early childhood exposure to PCE and adult vision.” Furthermore, the study suggests that “the effects of early life PCE-exposure on color discrimination may be irreversible.”
While PCE no longer leaches from the affected water pipes, this chemical continues to contaminate drinking water sources largely due to its widespread use as a degreasing solvent and dry cleaning agent. It is one of the industrial chemicals that leached into drinking water at the Camp Lejeune Marine Base, leading to long-term health problems among many families who lived and/or served on the base at the time.
While PCE exposure is most likely to result from ingesting contaminated water, PCE exposure can also result from absorbing contaminants through the skin during bathing or showering, or through inhalation of airborne contaminants in steam during bathing or showering. To prevent exposure use a top of the line drinking water filter, such as a Berkey Filter, that is capable of removing volatile organic compounds and industrial pollutants. Also fit a shower filter to your shower head to remove chemicals from your shower water. Big Berkey Water Filters are currently running a special offer – if you purchase a Big Berkey water filter you get 50% discount on certain products, including the Berkey shower filter. So now is a good time to take advantage of this offer to keep your family safe and healthy.
Kelly D. Getz, Patricia A. Janulewicz, Susannah Rowe, Janice M. Weinberg, Michael R. Winter, Brett R. Martin, Veronica M. Vieira, Roberta F. White, Ann Aschengrau. Prenatal and Early Childhood Exposure to Tetrachloroethylene and Adult Vision. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2012; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1103996