Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

What are Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)?

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of man-made organic chemicals consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine atoms. They were widely used in industrial and commercial applications due to their non-flammability, chemical stability, high boiling point, and electrical insulating properties. However, PCBs have been banned in many countries since the 1970s due to their environmental toxicity and persistence.

Found in Products

PCBs were commonly found in a variety of products, including:

  • Electrical Equipment: Transformers and capacitors.
  • Hydraulic Systems: Used in hydraulic fluid for certain types of machinery.
  • Paints and Plastics: As an additive to improve plasticity.
  • Caulking and Sealants: In buildings and construction materials.
  • Fluorescent Light Ballasts: In older lighting fixtures.
  • Carbonless Copy Paper: Used in some types of paper products.

Associated Risks

The following health effects have been linked to PCB exposure:

  • Cancer Risk: PCBs are classified as a probable human carcinogen, linked to an increased risk of liver and biliary tract cancers.
  • Neurological Effects: Exposure to PCBs, particularly in early life, has been associated with reduced cognitive function and behavioral changes.
  • Reproductive Effects: PCBs can disrupt hormonal function, potentially leading to reproductive health issues.
  • Immune System Impact: Exposure to PCBs has been shown to impair the immune system.
  • Endocrine Disruption: PCBs can interfere with hormone function, affecting thyroid and adrenal glands.

How To Avoid PCBs

Avoiding PCB exposure can be challenging due to their persistence in the environment, but here are some tips:

  • Inspect and Replace Old Electrical Equipment: Especially if it predates the PCB ban in the 1970s.
  • Be Aware of Older Building Materials: Avoid disturbing old caulking, sealants, or paints that might contain PCBs.
  • Proper Disposal of Fluorescent Light Ballasts: Especially those made before 1979.
  • Stay Informed About Local Advisories: Especially regarding PCB contamination in local water bodies and wildlife.

Given their widespread historical use and environmental persistence, complete avoidance of PCBs is difficult. Awareness and careful consideration in dealing with older materials and contaminated environments are key to minimizing exposure.