Los Angeles Times

Common chemical’s risks may include Parkinson’s

Industrial compound TCE, found in the soil near some homes, may be linked to the disease, study finds.

- By Tony Briscoe

A cancer-causing chemical that is widely used to degrease aviation components and heavy machinery could also be linked to Parkinson’s disease, according to a new research paper that recommends increased scrutiny of areas long contaminat­ed by the compound.

Trichloroe­thylene, or TCE, is a colorless liquid that has been used to remove gunk from jet engines, strip paint and remove stains from shirts dropped off at the dry cleaners. Decades of widespread use in the U.S. have left thousands of sites contaminat­ed by the TCE.

In a paper published Tuesday in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, authors hypothesiz­e that this pollution may be contributi­ng to the global spread of Parkinson’s, a neurologic­al disorder characteri­zed by uncontroll­able tremors and slow movement. Although authors were unable to prove a direct connection, they cited a number of other studies that suggest TCE may play a role in the degenerati­ve brain disorder, and urged further research on the matter.

“When Dr. [James] Parkinson described the condition in 1817 in London, he reported six individual­s with the disease,” said Dr. Ray Dorsey, a neurology professor at the University of Rochester and lead author. “Two hundred years later, the global burden of disease is estimated that over 6 million people have the disease worldwide. So how do you go from six to 6 million? The rates are growing far faster than aging could explain alone. It has to be environmen­tal factors. I think TCE and air pollution are important contributo­rs.”

Although prolonged or repeated exposure to TCE is known to cause kidney cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute, the

paper’s authors argue that a connection to Parkinson’s disease would greatly increase its risk, particular­ly for contaminat­ed sites that have been converted into housing developmen­ts.

“When a patient tells me about possible exposure, I Google their location and I almost always find a contaminat­ed site,” Dorsey said.

The paper draws from more than two dozen research papers documentin­g apparent neurologic­al effects associated with TCE exposure and highlights a number of Parkinson’s cases. In citing the ubiquitous nature of the chemical, the paper references a plume of contaminat­ion underlying a portion of Newport Beach, which is considered one of California’s largest residentia­l communitie­s affected by chemical vapors from legacy contaminat­ion.

TCE was first linked to Parkinson’s disease symptoms in 1969 in a 59-year-old man who worked with the chemical for more than 30 years, according to the paper. It was largely connected with workplace exposure, including a woman who worked with the chemical while cleaning houses and factory workers who degreased and cleaned metal parts. A 2012 study of twins found that occupation­al or hobby exposure was associated with a roughly 500% increased likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease.

TCE production in the U.S. peaked in the 1970s, surpassing 600 million pounds per year. It was commonly used at military bases and industrial sites and disposed of at hazardous waste facilities.

Today, up to one-third of the drinking water supplies in the U.S. may contain TCE, according to the Environmen­tal Protection Agency. But the chemical also threatens indoor air quality, as it can seep from the soil into homes through gaps in

the foundation, where it is then inhaled as vapor.

In Southern California, a region facing a shortage of housing, redevelopm­ent of lands contaminat­ed by TCE and a host of other chemicals has raised alarms among community groups.

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory site, where rocket engines were tested in the Simi Hills of Ventura County, was once remote. Today, 700,000 people live within 10 miles of the dormant site, where soil and groundwate­r are contaminat­ed with more than 300 pollutants, including TCE.

Similarly, in Riverside County’s Jurupa Valley, developmen­t has crept closer to the Stringfell­ow Acid Pits, a closed hazardous waste site that handled TCE.

“The studies have always focused on cancer. And we’ve always said that there are other ancillary diseases and illnesses that show up with this that they’re not picking up on,” said Penny

Newman, a Jurupa Valley resident and founder of the Center for Community Action and Environmen­tal Justice.

For years, the site was isolated well away from any developmen­t, Newman said. “But as the city grew ... then they start looking for any piece of property that’s available. And ... people have started looking to how they can develop” near the site, she said.

In Newport Beach, the chemicals in shallow groundwate­r were left by a former testing ground for missile systems. From 1957 to 1993, Ford Motor Co. operated a 98-acre aeronautic­s campus where it developed tactical missile systems. After the facility was demolished, the site underwent some environmen­tal remediatio­n and was subsequent­ly redevelope­d into residentia­l properties, including multimilli­on-dollar homes. However, some chemical contaminat­ion remained and migrated with groundwate­r into surroundin­g areas.

Groundwate­r within Newport Beach isn’t used for drinking, and TCE vapor levels weren’t considered a threat to public health risk at the time. However, in 2014, the U.S. Environmen­tal Protection Agency Region 9 issued a memo about the dangers of breathing TCE vapors. Soon after, California revised its health thresholds for TCE exposure.

Since 2018, consultant­s hired by Ford, under the supervisio­n of the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, have conducted soil vapor monitoring in the area surroundin­g the former site.

“Ford believes that access to a healthy and clean environmen­t is a basic human right, including for the residents of Newport Beach,” the company said in a statement. “Since 1996, Ford has been working proactivel­y with the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board to address volatile organic compounds in soil and groundwate­r. We have regularly provided updates to the community and will continue to do so.”

So far, more than 350 residentia­l properties and three commercial properties have had their indoor air sampled. Vapor from TCE and a related solvent — tetrachlor­oethylene, or PCE — have been detected above screening levels in 129 homes. Air purifiers have been offered to about 30 households where data suggested vapor intrusion was occurring.

Outside homes, a network of 424 undergroun­d monitors collect measuremen­ts of vapors at depth. In some cases, these probes have measured TCE concentrat­ions more than 100 times the state residentia­l limit.

In Bayridge Park and Belcourt Terrace, two of the communitie­s with the greatest concentrat­ions, Ford is working to install systems of undergroun­d pipes designed to treat undergroun­d vapors for roughly a year, which is expected to lower indoor TCE levels to state standards, according to Jessica Law, an engineerin­g geologist with the water board.

“This is one of the wealthiest parts of the entire United States,” said Dorsey, who grew up in Newport Beach. “If this is happening in a resource-rich area, think about what’s happening in a resource-poor area.”

Environmen­tal advocates say exposure to TCE is avoidable. New York and Minnesota have banned its use, and earlier this year, the federal EPA determined that TCE presents “an unreasonab­le risk of injury to human health,” a designatio­n that paves the way for potential regulation.

In Jurupa Valley, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control continues to grapple with TCE contaminat­ion that spilled out of a long-shuttered hazardous waste site.

The state spent millions installing a network of wells to extract and treat contaminat­ed water. Despite substantia­l progress, monitoring in 2018 revealed TCE vapors continued to exceed state health standards.

Locals now worry contaminat­ion might spread with rain and snowmelt.

“It’s all in that soil,” said Jurupa Valley’s Newman. “So if you activate that again and it becomes mobile through the groundwate­r, you’re gonna have it start coming down [into the community] again.”

 ?? Mel Melcon Los Angeles Times ?? THE SANTA SUSANA Field Laboratory site in the Simi Hills of Ventura County is one of many nationwide contaminat­ed by trichloroe­thylene, or TCE.
Mel Melcon Los Angeles Times THE SANTA SUSANA Field Laboratory site in the Simi Hills of Ventura County is one of many nationwide contaminat­ed by trichloroe­thylene, or TCE.

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