Polychlorinated Biphenyls commonly called PCBSs are a group of up to 209 manmade chemical compounds. These chemicals have been banned from manufacturing in the United States since 1977. Worldwide they have been banned or severely restricted since the 1970’s and 1980’s due to human and environmental health risks. PCBs are mainly found in electrical equipment such as transformers and capacitors but can also be found in an array of products since it began being produced in 1929. These products include: insulation, adhesives, plasticizers, paints, flame retardants, surface coatings, inks, hydraulic fluids, caulking compounds, dedusting agentss, glues and carbon copy duplicate paper. PCBs have a basic structure that remains very stable, which can explain its persistence in the environment, and also why it is beneficial for some manufacturers to continue using the chemical.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that PCBs are toxic. They have determined that PCBs cause significant human health effects including cancer, immune system suppression, liver damage, skin irritation, endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity, reproductive and developmental toxicity. There are several exposure pathways that include the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and skin meaning that PCBs are absorbed through ingestion, inhalation and dermal exposure. Once absorbed, they circulate through the body and are stored in the body’s fat tissue. PCBs are extremely fat soluble which explains the buildup in animal fat across the food chain. There is evidence that some PCBs can remain in the body and retain biological activity even after exposure has ended. Generally, humans are exposed to PCBs through consumption of contaminated foods, particularly meat and fish. Infants can be exposed through breast feeding as PCBs have been found in mother’s breast milk during lactation. Other ways that humans are exposed to PCBs are in the air and drinking water. Low levels of PCBs are found in the air and are particularly high near disposal facilities in urban areas. They are also found in extremely low levels in drinking water. Evidence provided to the EPA claims that PCBs can produce tumors.
PCBs are either oily liquids or waxy solids that are colorless to light yellow. They have no taste or smell. Some PCBs can exist as a vapor in air. They are very difficult to dissolve in water but will easily soluable in oil and fat.
Current Contamination Sources
B. Hazardous waste landfills
C. Improper disposal of PCBs contained products
If you think your health has been affected by exposure to PCBs, contact your health care professional.
For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.