Common chemical linked to Parkinson's
November 14th, 2011
06:45 PM ET

Common chemical linked to Parkinson's

Exposure to a man-made chemical known as trichloroethylene, or TCE, is associated with a sixfold increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease, according to a new study published Monday in the Annals of Neurology. TCE is a common organic contaminant that pollutes groundwater, soil, and air.

The study also found that exposure to another man-made chemical similar to TCE, known as perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene, or PERC, is associated with a tenfold increased risk of Parkinson's. Both chemicals are found in metal degreasers, metal cleaners, paint, spot removers, and carpet-cleaning fluids.

"The fact that we were able to find a six-to-tenfold increased risk in exposure I think is very meaningful," says Dr. Samuel M. Goldman, an associate professor of clinical research at The Parkinson's Institute and the lead author of the study.

Chemicals and solvents like TCE have been anecdotally linked to Parkinson's disease before but according to Goldman, no epidemiologic study has been done to verify the relationship until now.

To conduct the study, Goldman and his team identified six specific solvents previously suspected to be related to the development of Parkinson's, two of which were TCE and PERC. They then reached out to 99 all-male pairs of twins, each composed of one twin with Parkinson's and one without. The twins were all male because they were part of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council World War II Veteran Twins Registry that was founded in the 1960s using military records.

Goldman and his team interviewed the twins using detailed job-specific questionnaires to gauge the likelihood of each person being exposed to the predetermined solvents.

"We designed these extremely detailed interviews so that we didn't have to rely on the memory or the knowledge of the respondent," explains Goldman.

For example, if one of the study participants said he used to work as an aircraft mechanic in the 1950s, Goldman and his team would question the participant about the different duties or machinery the job involved.

"We know the geographic locations where [each participant] worked, the decade, and what they did so we can say, 'OK – we know that with someone who worked in the 1950s, in a plant with air plane engines, and they were working with the degreasing process, there is a high likelihood that person was exposed to TCE.'"

By working with twins, Goldman and his team were able to account for genetic and lifestyle factors and focus on the job differences between each brother, one of whom had Parkinson's. They found that exposure to TCE, PERC, and to a lesser extent another chemical known as carbon tetrachloride, were all associated with an increased risk of the neurodegenerative disease.

Goldman says that single finding could have major public health implications given how ubiquitous these chemicals, particularly TCE, are in the environment.

"These results need to be replicated," says Goldman. "Even though we have this single epidemiologic study, it's something that needs to be studied quickly."

That sense of urgency is reinforced by the Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision to classify TCE as a known human carcinogen. In an email to CNN, a spokesman for the EPA says the agency believes there is no "acceptable" level of the chemical in groundwater because of its designation as a carcinogen. However, the agency has set a maximum standard of five parts per billion (ppb) to help measure and enforce the amount of TCE in water supplies around the country.

"Clean water is critical to the health and prosperity of every American community and a fundamental concern to every American family," the EPA spokesman wrote to CNN.

The findings in Goldman's study support an emerging line of thought among Parkinson's researchers that the disease is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

"In Parkinson's disease, research has been pointing in the direction supporting the notion that genetics loads the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger," says Dr. Michael S. Okun, medical director of the National Parkinson Foundation.

"This may make the investigation of pesticides, toxins, and trauma very important to understanding what leads to this disease."

Goldman agrees and says more research needs to be done to identify potential environmental triggers like TCE.

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soundoff (1,370 Responses)
  1. Kevin

    My father was assigned to Castle AFB, CA in either the 60s. I've recently learned that TCE is associated with Parkinson's Disease. My father was approached by a gentleman who told him there were associations with TCE on Air Force Bases and Parkinson's. Does anyone know of any validity to this claim. He's 71 years old and has had Parkinson's now for almost 20 years.

    January 7, 2015 at 12:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Debby McBride


    I am helping my husband file a comp claim with the VA. He was diagnosed with Parkinsons a few years ago but is sure he has had it much longer than that. He was stationed at Travis AFB, CA. where in later years they spent millions of dollars to clean up ground water contamination from hazardous chemicals that the soldiers had to use in the 1960's The base that was I have a lot of info that I have uncovered and will do my best to get him what he deserves ! The military should stand by these veterans. They were exposed to much more than anyone realizes and they are paying for their service to our country with poor health and incurable diseases. Good luck and thank your dad for his service !

    May 25, 2015 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cecil pearson

      worked in/with TCE while stationed on a base that is now on the EPA superfund list. Probably had Parkinson's for man years but just diagnosed a year ago (70 years old). Good luck on a claim though both my private neurogolist and my VA neurogollist both just blew me off and said that was not their field ( they only treat the disease). If file a claim let me know how U did it. My VSO says no proof (doctor) won't file

      October 29, 2015 at 15:07 | Report abuse |
    • arick karpstein

      check out the "camp Lejune and Parkinson " on the web. If you were stationed there between a certain time you are eligible for benefits

      May 15, 2019 at 14:39 | Report abuse |
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  4. Bruce Jolly

    My name is Bruce Jolly.I served in the US NAVY from 1972 to 1975, aboard the Amphibious Assault Cargo Ship, the USS Durham LKA 114. The VA has treated me for MOVEMENT DISORDER, since 2010, and upgraded it to PARKINSON's in 2013. I know that there have been cases of Sailor's exposed to Agent Orange receiving disabilities. I now know that, the chemicals I was exposed to, are also proven to be linked to PARKINSON's. Is there anyone here who may help shed more light on this for me?

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  6. C Santa Barbara

    My husband also served on a navel ship for a few years and now has Parkinson's disease as well as dementia. I have had many people tell me that being on those ships with the asbestos, and other toxins could have attributed to his condition today. There were no other family members with the disease so genetics does not apply!,

    October 20, 2016 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marsha Parker

      Hi C Santa Barbara, my husband was also ona ship that was put to dry dock to remove asbestos, he has now been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, no history in his family either, I have been trying to find out some info but have not been able to get any answers yet, could you please let me know if you find out anything and I’ll do the same, my husband just turned 70April 20th. We are distraught as I am sure you are also, thank you and may God bless you both.
      Marsha Parker in North Carolina

      May 6, 2018 at 17:49 | Report abuse |
  7. Cynthia

    I am retiring at 65 to take care of my 72 year old husband who has Parkinson's from the TCE he used in the Army to repair signal radios with nylon gloves and to clean Cosmoline off of Tank Turret parts replacement parts with leather gloves in 1964 to 1967. His Parkinson's has advance to the stage that he can no longer be alone very long. I have been with him 42 years. There was a faint trimmer in the bone below the thumb on his left hand when he was 30. In 2007 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's. He has 6 siblings and 2 parents that never came down with Parkinson's. Three of his siblings and one of parents were in the military, but none of them were never exposed to TCE.

    November 20, 2016 at 11:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dr. Mark Fishman

    I served in SAC at Pease AF base when it was a dispensary from 1971-1973. It was a very busy base with lots of aircraft. The dispensary became a hospital with many great people . I left the A.F. proud of the job we were doing as well as emulating my fellow servicemen who were so loyal and brave. Now it seems A.F. has probably been the major cause for the Parkinsons Disease that has afflicted me and caused me to retire 5yrs ago. Where is the gvt now? NOT TO VOLUNTEERLY NOTIFY those of us who are at risk due to contaminated water. I VOLUNTEERED TO SERVE, NOW IT'S YOUR TURN TO VOLUNTER TO HELP US.
    RESPECTFULLY Dr. Mark J Fishman

    March 4, 2017 at 14:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. J A Rickabaugh U.S. Marine Corps

    U.S. Marine 3531, exposed on board Camp Lejeune, now 49 and dealing with Parkinaon's Disease. One battle I never expected to fight as a Marine. The symptoms have all but taken me away from what I once was.

    July 4, 2017 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
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  11. Sam

    My mother worked in her Dry Cleaners using PERC she got cancer and died at age 49 and one other whomen who worked in the same dry cleaners got cancer and deid at 63 one person who worked there has Parkinson's disease.
    5 people who lived above the dry cleaners building have hearing loss,
    2 people who worked in a dry cleaners 2 blocks down got also cancer and died at 33 and 64 . 3 people who worked in dry cleaners have orgen damage.

    June 17, 2018 at 09:14 | Report abuse | Reply
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  14. Derek Rooney

    My sister is 61 years and has been suffering from PD for the past 6years. Lately her condition started hallucinating and I did not know how to handle the situation. She could not sleep and tried to find and catch the imaginary people who she thinks are real, she had tremors for several years and was gradually becoming worse before we found PD herbal supplement from totalcureherbsfoundation.com that was able to get rid of her disease and alleviate all symptoms within the short period of her 15 weeks of usage.

    April 27, 2019 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Arick Karpstein

    I am 72 and was a BT on a navy ship from 1964 to 1969. I was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2010. After knowing what symptoms are I realized i had many symptoms dating back to the early 70's. Any degreasers used on board ships, and there were lots of them, are now found to be a cause of PD. even the VA own studies confirm this.

    May 15, 2019 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Name*kris Lovato

    Back in the late 60s early 70s my husband worked for Wyott corporation they made restaurant supplies hotdog cooker’s et Cetera. He was exposed to perchlorethelene at that job and he was diagnosed March 2018 with Parkinson’s. Could there be a connection ??

    August 13, 2019 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
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