Fact sheet: Trichloroethene

From: Public Services and Procurement Canada

Discover a list of a contaminant's important chemical properties, how it will react in the environment, main sources of contamination related, and a brief overview of health and safety issues.

On this page

General information

CAS number


Molecular formula


Formula weight

131.4 g/mol


Chlorinated aliphatic hydrocarbons (CAH)

Properties (at room temperature where applicable)

Compound properties list
Melting/boiling point -86 °C / 87 °CLiquid
Relative density1.46 g/cm3Sinks in water
Vapour pressure70 mm HgVery volatile
Vapour density4.5Denser than air
Solubility in water1,300 mg/LModerately soluble
Henry's law constant1 x 10-2 atm·m3/molRapid volatilization when dissolved
log Koc (Depending on soil or sediment characteristics)1.7 - 1.22*Moderate adsorption to organic matter

Environmental behaviour

At 20 0C, trichloroethene is a liquid denser than water and very volatile. Characterized by moderate solubility, it will volatilize rapidly once dissolved and adsorbs moderately to organic matter. During a spill, this compound will mostly evaporate but may also enter into the soil or migrate into a waterway. Once it encounters water (surface or subsurface), trichloroethene will dissolve or sink until it reaches an impermeable surface. Liquid trichloroethene that accumulates in a saturated zone will gradually dissolve before partially volatilizing. The adsorbed trichloroethene in the vadose and saturated zones will rapidly disappear, liberating contamination in either the gaseous or dissolved state. The resulting plumes (gaseous or dissolved) will be relatively large in size.

Health and safety

Trichloroethene should be handled with care as it is toxic.

Principal resources

Trichloroethene is produced industrially through the reaction of 1,2-dichloroethane with chlorine and/or hydrogen chloride and oxygen to form trichloroethene and tetrachloroethene. The Canadian production of trichloroethene ceased in 1985. Trichloroethene enters the aquatic environment through industrial discharges, landfill leaching, accidental spills, and improper storage and disposal. Trichloroethene is also a known degradation product of tetrachloroethene.

The most important use of trichloroethene is degreasing of metal parts in automotive and metals industries. Trichloroethene is an excellent extraction solvent for greases, oils, fats, waxes and tars, and is used by the textile processing industry to scour cotton, wool and other fabrics. The textile industry also uses trichloroethene as a solvent in waterless dying and finishing operations. It is also present in dry cleaning facilities. As a general solvent or as a component of solvent blends, trichloroethene is used with adhesives, lubricants, paints, varnishes and paint strippers. Trichloroethene is also used as an intermediate in the production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), pharmaceuticals, polychlorinated aliphatics, flame retardant chemicals and insecticides. Trichloroethene is used as a refrigerant for low-temperature heat transfer and is found in various consumer products including writing correction fluids, paint removers, adhesives, spot removers and rug-cleaning fluids.


Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1997. Toxicological Profile for Trichloroethylene. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Georgia, USA. (Viewed December 2013).

Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. 1999. Canadian Water Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life: Chlorinated Ethenes (1,1,2-trichloroethene (trichloroethylene). In: Canadian Environmental Quality Guidelines. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, Manitoba, Canada. (Viewed March 2010).

Montgomery, John H. 2007. Groundwater Chemicals, Desk Reference, Fourth Edition, CRC Press, Taylor and Francis Group, Florida, USA.