Also known as: Aroclor, Chlorinated Biphenyls, Kaneclor
Chemical reference number (CAS): 1336-36-3
What are PCBs?
PCBs are a group of 209 different compounds. PCBs are man-made and have no smell. They
are yellow, oily liquids that dont easily burn. There are no natural sources of
Companies in the United States first made PCBs in 1929. Theyve been used as
coolants in electrical equipment, metal-cutting oils, microscope lens oils, and in inks,
dyes, and carbonless copy paper.
In 1977, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of PCBs. The EPA
was concerned about the harmful effects of PCBs. For example, PCBs can accumulate in the
environment. PCBs may be present in old fluorescent light fixtures and parts of appliances
made before 1978.
PCBs break down very slowly and can be carried long distances in the air, in rivers,
lakes and oceans. PCBs can build up over time in the fat of people and animals. Recent
studies found that most people have traces of PCBs in their body fat. PCBs can build-up in
the food chain. For example, fish can have PCB levels in their fatty tissues that are much
higher than the surrounding water.
How are people exposed to PCBs?
Drinking/Eating: For most people, eating fish or other seafood caught
from polluted water is the main way in which they are exposed to PCBs.
Women who are pregnant or plan to have children should be especially cautious about
eating contaminated fish. When people eat contaminated food over many years, PCBs can
build up in their body fat. When people lose weight or breastfeed, their bodies use stored
fat and put stored PCBs back into their blood. Babies may be exposed to PCBs in breast
milk from mothers who often eat PCB contaminated fish.
Researchers have found high levels of PCBs in several types of fish, shellfish, marine
mammals and waterfowl. In general, older animals living in polluted areas have the highest
levels. State advisories are available for people who eat sport-caught fish and waterfowl.
For more information, contact your regional Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
(DNR) office or call (608) 266-1877.
Touching: People can be exposed to PCBs in places where these
chemicals were used, spilled, or thrown away. PCBs can be absorbed through skin during
handling of the chemicals, contaminated soil or other contaminated items.
Breathing: Inhalation of PCB vapors or air is a minor source of
Do standards exist for regulating PCBs?
Food: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests not eating
fish containing more than 2 parts per million of PCBs. This guidance assumes that a person
eats two 8-ounce servings of fish per month, for every month of the year.
Water: The state and federal drinking water standard for PCBs are both
set at 0.5 parts per billion (ppb). The Wisconsin groundwater standard is 0.03 ppb.
Wisconsins standard is to protect people against the possible cancer-causing effects
of PCBs and the effects PCBs have on infants. We suggest you stop drinking water
containing more than 0.03 ppb of PCBs.
Will exposure to PCBs result in harmful health
Researchers have found PCBs cause a number of harmful health effects. Exposure to high
levels of PCBs, as might occur as a result of a chemical spill, can cause changes in the
immune system and in liver function. The following health effects can occur after several
years of exposure to PCBs:
Cancer: PCBs cause liver cancer in laboratory animals and may cause
cancer in humans.
Reproductive Effects: Some limited animal and human studies suggest
PCBs can effect reproduction and the development of unborn babies. Researchers have noted
learning and memory problems in some children who were exposed to PCBs before birth.
Immunity: Animal studies show the immune system can be affected by
Organ Systems: PCB exposure can cause liver damage.
In general, chemicals affect the same organ systems in all people who are exposed.
However, the seriousness of the effects may vary from person to person.
Each person's reaction depends on several things, including individual health,
heredity, previous exposure to chemicals including medicines, and personal habits such as
smoking or drinking.
It is also important to consider the length of exposure to the chemical; the amount of
chemical exposure; and whether the chemical was inhaled, touched, or eaten.
Can a medical test determine exposure to PCBs?
Doctors can use blood tests to evaluate exposure to PCBs. This type of blood test is
expensive and not always locally available. Testing can also detect PCBs in human fat or
breast milk. Most testing of this type has been done for research purposes. Liver function
tests may be helpful in determining damage from exposure.
Seek medical advice if you have any symptoms that you think may be related to exposure.
(P-44607 Revised 12/2010)
This fact sheet summarizes information about this chemical and is not a complete
listing of all possible effects. It does not refer to work exposure or emergency
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