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Jun 1, 2005 | Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a powerful industrial solvent and degreaser used to clean metal parts. An Italian study published in the May issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggests that it may do a lot more than that. TCE may, in fact, cause immune system changes and disorders in workers who are exposed to it.

The study of workers exposed and not exposed to TCE found that the exposed workers had abnormally high levels of a TCE metabolite in their urine. These workers also had significant changes in the normal balance between type 1 (higher than normal) and type 2 cytokines (lower than normal). Elevated type 1 cytokines can lead to autoimmune disorders in which the immune system attacks the body’s own tissue.

While the study does not prove exposure to TCE causes autoimmune disorders, it provides strong evidence that even low-level exposure to the solvent can alter the immune system in very specific ways. The researchers stress that more research is needed to clarify how TCE affects the immune system and what the possible health effects of exposure to the chemical may be.

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