What are PCBS?
PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) are a group of manmade chemicals. PCBs were widely used in building materials and electrical products in the past. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the manufacturing and certain uses of PCBs in 1978.
Where are PCBs found?
Buildings constructed or renovated between 1950 and 1978 may still have building materials and electrical products that contain PCBs. Examples of products that may contain PCBs include caulk, paint, glues, plastics, fluorescent lighting ballasts, transformers and capacitors. PCBs continue to be widespread in our soil, air, water and food because of past use and disposal. PCBs break down very slowly and can remain in the environment for a long time. Almost everyone has been exposed to PCBs because of the widespread presence of PCBs in the environment. Most people have some PCBs in their bodies. In general, however, PCB levels in people have been going down since they were banned. Food is the main source of PCB exposure for most people. Foods that contain small amounts of PCBs include meat, dairy products and fish (especially fish caught in polluted waters). Current health advisories on chemicals in sport fish can be found on state health department websites.
Building materials and electrical products can generate PCB-containing vapors and dust when they break down or are disturbed. Building occupants may be exposed by breathing in PCB-containing dust or vapors, accidental hand to mouth contact, or by skin contact with PCB materials.
What are the consequences of possible exposure?
- Studies have shown behavioral and developmental problems among children whose mothers were either exposed to large amounts of PCBs or regularly ate fish from contaminated waters during pregnancy.
- Evidence is limited on PCBs and cancer in humans, but PCBs are classified as probable human carcinogens. Some studies of workers suggest that high-level exposure increases the risk of liver cancer. PCBs have been found to cause cancer and other health effects in laboratory animals.
- Scientists have looked at PCB exposure as a risk factor for developing disorders of the liver, thyroid, reproductive and immune systems. These studies have shown inconsistent results and do not provide a clear link between PCB exposure and these health effects.
- High-dose exposure to PCBs may cause chloracne, a rash-like condition, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headaches and dizziness. Severe symptoms like these have only been seen among people with exposure to large amounts of PCBs in the workplace or following accidental consumption.
What can be done to reduce exposure?
- Reduce the potential for PCB exposure: Maintain building materials and electrical products in good condition.
- Maintain good air flow in buildings.
- Clean buildings thoroughly and frequently. Avoid spreading fine particles.
- Keep children from touching caulk or surfaces near caulk
Can I handle removal myself?
To prevent PCB exposure, all repairs and renovations should be conducted by trained maintenance workers or an experienced contractor using safe work practices. Proper cleaning methods should be used to minimize potential exposure to PCBs after repairs are completed. PCB-containing caulk can contaminate surrounding surfaces if it is removed and discarded improperly.