Threshold of trichloroethylene contamination in maternal drinking waters affecting fetal heart development in the rat

Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Mar;111(3):289-92. doi: 10.1289/ehp.5125.


Halogenated hydrocarbons such as trichloroethylene (TCE) are among the most common water supply contaminants in the United States and abroad. Epidemiologic studies have found an association but not a cause-and-effect relation between halogenated hydrocarbon contamination and increased incidence of congenital cardiac malformations or other defective birth outcomes. Avian and rat studies demonstrated statistically significant increases in the number of congenital cardiac malformations in those treated with high doses of TCE, either via intrauterine pump or in maternal drinking water, compared with controls. This study attempts to determine if there is a threshold dose exposure to TCE above which the developing heart is more likely to be affected. Sprague-Dawley rats were randomly placed in test groups and exposed to various concentrations of TCE (2.5 ppb, 250 ppb, 1.5 ppm, 1,100 ppm) in drinking water or distilled water (control group) throughout pregnancy. The percentage of abnormal hearts in the treated groups ranged from 0 to 10.48%, with controls having 2.1% abnormal hearts, and the number of litters with fetuses with abnormal hearts ranged from 0 to 66.7%, and the control percentage was 16.4%. The data from this study indicate not only that there is a statistically significant probability overall of a dose response to increasing levels of TCE exposure, but also that this trend begins to manifest at relatively low levels of exposure (i.e., < 250 ppb). Maternal rats exposed to more than this level of TCE during pregnancy showed an associated increased incidence of cardiac malformations in their developing rat fetuses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Heart / embryology*
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / chemically induced*
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / veterinary
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange*
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Solvents / adverse effects*
  • Trichloroethylene / adverse effects*
  • Water Supply*


  • Solvents
  • Trichloroethylene