Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are a mixture of individual chemicals. Formerly used in various engineering capacities, manufacturers no longer use PCBs in the United States – however, PCBs still exist in our environment. After the harmful health effects of PCBs were documented, they were eliminated from the U.S. manufacturing field in 1977. However, your industrial site may still have traces of PCBs, especially in items like old fluorescent lighting fixtures. Read on to learn more about PCB health effects and ways to remediate contaminated sites.
PCB Health Effects
What Are PCBs?
Polychlorinated biphenyls had a variety of uses in the mid-20th century, primarily as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment. Although PCBs were eliminated from the U.S. manufacturing market in the late 1970s, PCBs have been found in at least 500 of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Priorities List sites for remediation. The presence of PCBs in our environment isn’t surprising – these harmful chemicals entered the air, water, and soil during their manufacturing heyday. PCBs have also entered the environment during various spills and leaks and manufacturing facility fires. PCBs take an extremely long time to break down, and can travel through the air, water, and soil. Additionally, small organisms and fish can absorb PCBs in water, and the animals that eat those small organisms and fish may absorb the PCBs as well.
What Are the Risks of PCBs?
The health effects of PCBs have been studied for decades. At present, the evidence points to several different effects, the most common being acne-like skin conditions and rashes in adults, as well as neurobehavioral changes in children. Studies have also found that PCBs cause cancer in animals, although PCBs are only classified as a partial carcinogen in humans. There have also been several studies examining workers exposed to PCBs, the results of which pointed to possible liver damage. Finally, although PCBs are not known to cause birth defects, women who have been exposed to PCBs were found to give birth to babies that weighed slightly less than the average. These babies also showed some abnormal responses in motor skills, immune function, and short-term memory tests.
Several agencies govern the presence of PCBs in the United States. First, the EPA has set a stringent limit of 0.0005 milligrams of PCBs per liter of drinking water. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also has PCB guidelines, requiring that infant foods, eggs, dairy products, fish, poultry and red meat contain no more than 0.2-3 parts of PCBs per million parts of food. However, accidents happen. If your industrial site experiences any kind of discharge, spill, or other accidental release involving one pound or more of PCBs, you must report the spill to the EPA immediately. If you are unsure about possible PCB contamination at your site, you’ll need to schedule a PCB assessment.
PCB health effects can be severe, ranging from minor skin irritation to potential developmental delays in infants. Fortunately, PCB assessments are an excellent way to ensure the complete remediation of your site, no matter the extent of the contamination. At EWI, our experts are able to prepare custom PCB assessments and remediation recommendations for each individual client. We’re passionate about keeping you and your employees safe and compliant. In addition to PCB assessments, we offer the following compliance assessments:
- Environmental compliance audits
- Environmental management system reviews
- EPCRA/SARA Title III assessments
- Chemical inventories
- Waste minimization
- Pollution prevention
- Environmental training
- Regulatory negotiation
If you have questions about the importance of PCB assessments or PCB health effects, Environmental Works is here to help. To learn more, please click here to contact us online and schedule your inspection.