New research suggests the solvent tetrachloroethylene (PCE), used in dry cleaning and once found in drinking water, may be linked to an increased risk of mental illness.

PCE is widely used in industry and to dry clean clothes. Prior studies suggests PCE is a neurotoxin that can cause mood changes, anxiety, and depression in people who work with it.

Although the long-term effect of this chemical on children exposed to PCE has been less clear, there is some evidence that children of people who work in the dry cleaning industry have an increased risk of schizophrenia.

In a new study, published in BioMed Central’s open access journal Environmental Health, researchers discovered exposure to PCE as a child was associated with an increased risk of bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In the study, researchers from Boston University followed the incidence of mental illness among adults from Cape Cod, born between 1969 and 1983, who were consequently exposed to PCE both before birth and during early childhood.

Researchers studied this geographic cohort because from 1968, until the early 1980s, water companies in Massachusetts installed vinyl-lined (VL/AC) water pipes that were subsequently found to be leaching PCE into the drinking water supply.

While there was no increase seen in the incidence of depression, regardless of PCE exposure, people with prenatal and early childhood exposure to PCE had almost twice the risk of bipolar disorder, compared to an unexposed group, and their risk of PTSD was raised by 50 percent.

Epidemiologist Dr. Ann Aschengrau from Boston University School of Public Health warned, “It is impossible to calculate the exact amount of PCE these people were exposed to – levels of PCE were recorded as high as 1,550 times the currently recommended safe limit.

“While the water companies flushed the pipes to address this problem, people are still being exposed to PCE in the dry cleaning and textile industries, and from consumer products, and so the potential for an increased risk of illness remains real.”

Source: BioMed Central

Glass of water photo by shutterstock.