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Is this chemical an ‘invisible’ cause of Parkinson’s disease?

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Rochester, NY — A team of international researchers believes exposure to the chemical trichloroethylene may be linked to Parkinson’s disease.

Also known as TCE, trichloroethylene is used widely – including in dry cleaning and as a solvent in brake and parts cleaning, recycling, and disposal.

In a hypothesis paper, the researchers profile seven people whose Parkinson’s diagnoses could be linked to TCE exposure. Exposure could result in miscarriages, cancer and congenital heart disease, and is associated with a 500% increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, a University of Rochester press release states. The paper also includes a review of previously published studies.

The number of Parkinson’s cases has doubled over the past three decades, and could double again by 2040, according to the researchers, who note that the risk expands beyond individuals who work with TCE. The chemical has been found among contaminants in soil and groundwater. TCE also can evaporate and enter workplaces, schools and homes – often undetected.

Because TCE is used in various industries nationwide, the researchers say cleaning and containment efforts must be accelerated and the federal government and states – following the lead of Minnesota and New York – should ban the use of the chemical. The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that TCE, as a whole chemical substance, poses “unreasonable risk” to workers under certain conditions.

“For more than a century, TCE has threatened workers, polluted the air we breathe – outside and inside – and contaminated the water we drink,” the researchers write. “Global use is waxing, not waning. Most of this has been invisible, all of it is unacceptable and none of it will stop until we act.”

The paper was published online in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease.

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