Neurobehavioral effects of exposure to trichloroethylene through a municipal water supply

Environ Res. 2003 Nov;93(3):248-58. doi: 10.1016/s0013-9351(03)00131-2.


We studied a population-based sample of 143 residents of a community in which the municipal water supply had been contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) and related chemicals from several adjacent hazardous waste sites between 1981 and 1986. A hydraulic simulation model was used in conjunction with a geographic information system (GIS) to estimate residential water supply exposures to TCE; 80% of the participants had potential TCE exposure exceeding the maximum contaminant level (5 ppb). The Neurobehavioral Core Test Battery (NCTB), tests of visual contrast sensitivity, and the profile of mood states (POMS) were administered approximately 6 years following peak concentrations of TCE in municipal drinking water. Multivariate analysis of variance adjusted for potential confounders was used to compare mean test scores of residents classified by estimated TCE exposure (< or =5, >5-10, >10-15, >15 ppb). TCE exposure >15 ppb was associated with poorer performance on the digit symbol, contrast sensitivity C test, and contrast sensitivity D test and higher mean scores for confusion, depression, and tension. We found evidence of a strong interaction between exposure to TCE and alcohol consumption; the associations for the NCTB and POMS among persons in the high-exposure group who also consumed alcohol were stronger and were statistically significant for the Benton, digit symbol, digit span, and simple reaction time tests, as well as for confusion, depression, and tension. This study adds to the evidence that long-term exposure to low concentrations of TCE is associated with neurobehavioral deficits and demonstrates the usefulness of GIS-based modeling in exposure assessment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / etiology
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Geographic Information Systems*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Solvents / toxicity*
  • Trichloroethylene / toxicity*
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid
  • Water Supply*


  • Solvents
  • Trichloroethylene