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SUMMARY: Exposure to polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) happens mostly from eating contaminated foods or breathing contaminated work place air. High exposure to PCBs can damage the skin, eyes, and lungs. PCBs have been found in at least 349 of 1.300 National Priorities List (NPL) sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To find out if you live near a NPL site, or if the commercial building you are planning to buy is a NPL site, contact A.Q. Management & Control, Inc.

What are Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCBs)?
(Pronounced Pol's-klo'ri-nat-ed-bi-fe'nils)

PCBs are a group of industrial chemicals that share a common structure. They are only liquids or solids, clear to light yellow in color, and with no smell or taste. They don't occur naturally in the environment. Arocolor is a popular trade name of a commercial PCB mixture.

PCBs don't burn easily. In the past, they were widely used as coolant, insulating material, and lubricants in electrical equipment like transformers and capacitors. The U.S. stopped making them in 1977 because of the health effects associated with exposure. As levels in the environment increased, the potential for harmful effects increased.

Pre-1977 products may still contain PCBs. These products include old fluorescent lighting fixtures, electrical devices or appliances with PCB capacitors, old microscope oil, and hydraulic fluids.

What happen to PCBs when they enter the environment?

  • They enter air as solid or liquid aerosol or vapor and can stay in air more than 10 days.
  • When in air, they can travel long distances in the wind.
  • They move from air to soil and water when it snows or rains.
  • Most stick tightly to soil particles; a small amount dissolves in water.
  • They take several years to break down to soil.
  • They are stored in the bodies of fish and seafood.
  • Levels in fish can be many thousands of times higher than levels in water.

How might I be exposed to PCBs?

  • Breathing workplace air (indoor air around electrical parts or outdoor air at waste sites).
  • Drinking water, skin contact with soil, or breathing air that is contaminated from nearby waste sites.
  • Eating fatty foods such as fish, seafood, dairy, or fatty meats contaminated with PCBs.
  • Breast milk from mothers exposed to PCBs.

How can PCBs affect my health?

Most of what we know about the human health effects of PCBs comes from studies on workers. Levels in the work place are usually much higher thanplaces. Workers are exposed to PCBs from breathing air and contact with their skin.

Exposure to PCBs at levels found in the work place and over a long may cause harmful effects to the skin (acne, rashes, and coloring of the nails and skin) and eyes (redness, burning, irritation, and discharge). PCBs in the diet of animals produced similar effects. PCBs may also irritate the nose and lungs.

Repeated skin contact to PCBs in rabbits cause liver, kidney, and skin damage. A single, large exposure to skin cause death in rabbits. Rats and other animals that breathed very high levels of PCBs over several months had liver and kidney damage. It is not clear if these effects would happen in people at similar levels of exposure.

Rats that ate large amounts of PCBs for short period had mild liver damage; some died. Smaller amounts over several weeks or months caused liver, stomach, and thyroid gland injuries, anemia, acne, and reduced the ability to have offspring. Similar effects occurred in different laboratory animals.

How likely are PCBs to cause cancer?

The Department of Health and Human Services (1991) has determine that PCBs may reasonable be anticipated to be carcinogens. This is based on animal studies. Studies in workers do not provide enough information to know with any certainty if PCBs cause cancer in humans.

Is there a medical test to show whether I've been exposed to PCBs?

Tests are available for PCBs in blood, body fat, and breast milk. Blood test are the best method for detecting recent exposure to large amounts. These test are not routinely performed at your doctor's office.

High levels in your body fluids indicate exposure to high levels of PCBs. These test can't determine the exact amount of type of PCBs, how long you were exposed, or if you will develop harmful health effects. Most people have small but measurable amounts of PCBs in their blood, fat, and breast milk.

Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends PCBs levels in lakes and streams be no higher than 0.001 parts of PCB per billion parts of water (0.001 ppb) to prevent cancer. PCBs in drinking water should not be in higher than 4 milligrams per liter of water (4 mg/L) for adults, and 1 mg/L for children to prevent non-cancer harmful effects. EPA regulates the transport, storage, disposal of PCBs. EPA limits the amount of PCBs in publicly owned waste water treatment plants, and requires industry to report release of 1 pound or more.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires milk, eggs, other dairy products, poultry fat, fish, shellfish, and infant foods to contain no more than 0.2-3 parts of PCBs per million parts of food (0.2-3 ppm) to prevent non-cancer harmful effects.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends workers not breath air with more than 0.001 milligram of PCBs per cubic meter of air (0.001 mg/m3) for a 10-hour workday, 40-hour workweek.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires work place exposure limits of 0.5 mg/m3 (54 percent chlorine) or 1 mg/m3 (42 percent chlorine) for an 8-hour workday to protect workers from noncancer harmful health effects.

Where can I get more information?

Contact the local occupational and environmental health clinic. Their specialist can recognize, evaluate, and treat illness resulting from exposure to hazardous substances. You can also contact your community or state health or environmental quality department. If you have any more questions or concerns, contact
A.Q. Management & Control for further information.

Carcinogen: Substance that can cause cancer. PPM: Parts per million. Milligram (Mg): On thousandth of a gram.



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