TCE: Complicating Real Estate Transactions Involving Dry Cleaning Businesses
Tetrachloroethene (TCE), also known as PERC (Perchloroethylene or PCE), is the primary contaminant associated with dry cleaner facilities. TCE is a dense, open chain, chlorinated hydrocarbon. This compound has a specific gravity greater than that of water. Thus, TCE tends to sink in the water table until it accumulates and pools at a confining layer (clay or rock strata). It can travel laterally in the water table being influenced by groundwater flow direction. TCE will slowly dissipate through dissolution in the water column or through natural decomposition.
Through natural degradation of tetrachloroethene, vinyl chloride is produced along with other chlorinated products. Vinyl chloride is less dense than water, so it rises toward the top of the water table. The presence of vinyl chloride at a property may suggest an older release. The rate at which chlorinated solvents degrade is dependent upon the initial composition, concentration, and general geochemistry of the area.
The release of chlorinated solvents into the environment can occur from storage tanks (aboveground or underground), drums, containers, dry cleaner machines, wastewater into the septic system, damaged sewer lines, or spills at the facility.
Prior to a real estate transaction that involves a site contaminated with chlorinated solvents, the economic risks should be evaluated. Third-party liability, resale potential, regulatory requirements, and other financial impacts should be assessed. Soil and groundwater samples taken from the subject property should provide the data necessary to properly evaluate the economic risk associated with the environmental issues.