July 2023 President’s Message

July 2023 President’s Message

What to do for patients concerned about TCE exposure

by Maurice Duggins, MD —

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a chemical used to make refrigerants or a metal degreaser in many industries. The EPA lists it as a carcinogen because of the associated increase in kidney and liver cancer, as well as blood cancers such as lymphoma.

There was a TCE chemical spill by Union Pacific Railroad near 29th St. North and Grove Street in Wichita estimated to have occurred before the 1990s. The plume from the spill affected the soil and groundwater not only in the immediate area but extended just south of the KUSM-Wichita campus.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has been working with contracted parties to mitigate the movement and remove the TCE since KDHE discovered the spill in 1994. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that many of the people living in this area were not informed about this spill until recently.

The community accepts the mitigation efforts but requests that more be done to inform those affected by the spill and to engage the community with appropriate screenings for the effects the spill may have caused. A recent report by KDHE demonstrated a greater amount of liver cancer in the affected community than in other populations in the region.

As we know, cancer screenings check for cancer or abnormal cells that may become cancer in people who have no symptoms. Several screening tests can detect cancer early and reduce the chance of dying from that cancer.

In addition to holding the responsible party accountable, efforts have begun to raise funding to allow people who lived or are living in the plume area to obtain screening tests.

MSSC members may be approached by concerned patients about getting screened for possible cancer-related matters from TCE exposure. The current recommendation is for members to not initiate any screening at one’s individual office but to refer these patients to a free screening program at GraceMed (see contact information below). Other entry points for screenings, such as other safety net clinics, may come on board in time.

This is still a work in progress, as other spill sites in or around Wichita have been discovered. However, the 29th and Grove spill is spurring our community to determine how it should care for those affected by spills and exposures.

Key takeaways

  • There are no current standard recommendations for screening or caring for patients who have been exposed to TCE.
  • Patients who are now aware of the known association between TCE and cancer may ask for screening assessment.
  • Community members along with city and county officials, KDHE, the Sedgwick County Health Department and MSSC affiliate Project Access are working on the best approach to help those possibly affected.

The initial process is:

  • Have patients screened at GraceMed;
  • Have longitudinal tracking of screening results/patient outcomes;
  • Avoid associating any costs with this effort to patients.

GraceMed contact information:
GraceMed Health Clinic, Inc.
1150 N. Broadway
Wichita, KS 67214
(316) 866-2000

For more information:
National Cancer Institute information on TCE: https://tinyurl.com/2p8jny7n
Local reporting on plume: https://tinyurl.com/5cfc29yd
KDHE Q&A: https://tinyurl.com/ymhf3pwv