Parkinson’s ‘timebomb’ as thousands could develop disease due to common chemical found in decaf coffee

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People who are exposed to the industrial solvent are 70% more likely to develop Parkinson’s, a new study has found

Thousands of people could develop Parkinson's disease due to a chemical that used to be common in dry cleaning. The discovery has been linked to an increased prevalence of Parkinson’s, a new study has found.

People who are exposed to the industrial solvent are 70% more likely to develop Parkinson’s, scientists have warned. The findings are based on tens of thousands of former marines who were stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

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The study comes as around one million people in the US are currently diagnosed with the condition, and doctors diagnose 60,000 Americans every year. The professor who conducted the study also warned that hundreds of thousands of family members and civilian workers who were exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune may also be at an increased risk of Parkinson’s, as well as cancers and health risks.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) and other volatile organic compounds contaminated the water supply. Professor Samuel Goldman, a corresponding author from California University, San Francisco, said: "Exposure to trichloroethylene in water may increase the risk of Parkinson's disease. Millions worldwide have been and continue to be exposed to this ubiquitous environmental contaminant."

TCE has also been found in decaffeinated coffee. The chemical has been banned by food and pharmaceutical industries since the 1970s.

Since the mid 1950s it has been removed from dry cleaning. However, it is still used in metal cleaning and degreasing. It’s also used as an extraction solvent in the textile manufacturing industry.

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Drinking water from Camp Lejeune was contaminated with TCE from 1953 until 1987 after testing found the pollution. Prof Goldman said: "Monthly median levels of TCE in the base's water supply were greater than 70-fold the permissible amount."

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Parkinson’s study - what did they find?

Prof Goldman’s team compared the number of Parkinson’s cases around 172,000 veterans from Camp Lejeune with 168,000 from Camp Pendleton in California. The California drinking water was clean, whereas the Camp Lejeune water was polluted with TCE at the time.

The veterans were mostly male. They spent an average of two years living in their bases between 1975 and 1985, where TCE was most prevalent.

Over three decades later, 279 veterans from Camp Lejeune were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. This is compared to 151 from Camp Pendleton – a prevalence of 0.33 and 0.21 percent respectively.

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This means veterans from Camp Lejeune, where the waters were polluted with the chemical, had a 70% higher risk of Parkinson’s than the veterans who had clean water.

TCE in water

In the US, up to a third of water supplies have measurable amounts of TCE. This can lead to the accumulation in soil.

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TCE can be absorbed by humans through their lungs, skin and intestines. Humans could be exposed to TCE through occupational usage, ingestion of contaminated food and water or during cooking and bathing.

Where else can TCE be found? 

Prof Goldman said: "Reflecting its environmental ubiquitousness, TCE has been broadly detected in human breast milk, blood and urine. It should be noted that in addition to the exposed service members studied here, hundreds of thousands of family members and civilian workers exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune may also be at increased risk of Parkinson's, cancers and other health consequences.

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"Continued prospective follow-up of this population is essential. This cohort study’s findings suggest the risk of Parkinson's is 70 per cent higher in veterans who were exposed to TCE and other VOCs 40 years ago.

“Trichloroethylene is a ubiquitous environmental contaminant used throughout the world since the 1920s. Many millions have been and continue to be exposed."

Previously, a global study by the same team found that TCE increased the risk of Parkinson’s sixfold.

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