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What are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)?
PCBs are a group of industrial chemicals that share a common structure. They are oily liquids or solids, clear to light yellow in color, and have no smell or taste. They don't occur naturally in the environment. They may also be referred to as Aroclors, a popular trade name of commercial PCB mixtures.
PCBs don't break down in the environment easily. However, they have excellent electric conductive properties and, in the past, were widely used as coolants, insulating materials, and lubricants in electrical equipment like transformers and capacitors. The United States stopped making them in 1977 because of potential health effects associated with exposure as seen in laboratory animals.
What happens to PCBs when they enter the environment?
They enter air as solid or liquid aerosols or vapor and can stay in air more than 10 days.
Most stick tightly to soil particles and bottom sediments in the water; a small amount dissolves in water.
How might I be exposed to PCBs?
Most individuals living in the Western Hemisphere have been come in contact with and therefore have some level of PCBs in their bodies. Most people, however, are never harmed by PCBs. Exposure can occur in several ways:
What can be done to keep PCBs out of my body?
How can PCBs affect my health?
Exposure to PCBs does not mean that you will become sick. Whether you get sick depends on five things:
The type and severity of problems not only depend upon these previously mentioned points but also important is the age, sex, and weight of the person and whether he/she has any current health problems or weakness toward the chemical. People differ in how they are affected by chemicals with which they come in contact. For example, the health effect on a young child is greater than in an adult because of his age, weight, and immune system which is not fully developed.
Most of what we know about the human health effects of PCBs comes from studies on individuals that worked with/near PCBs in the past and studies with lab animals. Levels in the workplace are usually much higher than at other places. Workers are exposed to PCBs from breathing air and contact with their skin.
The most commonly seen health effects in people exposed to large amounts of PCBs are:
Less common chronic conditions include:
Is there a medical test to determine if I have been exposed to PCBs?
There are tests to find out if PCBs are in the blood, body fat, and breast milk. These tests are not routine chemical tests, but they can detect whether you have been exposed. Talk with your doctor or occupational health care professional to discuss whether you should be tested. Understanding what the test results mean will be explained by your physician.
Where can I get more national information?
Contact: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease registry, Division of Toxicology, 1600 Clifton Rd. NE, Mailstop E-29, Atlanta GA 30333. Phone: 1-888-422-8737. To obtain their Fact Sheet, ToxFAQs, the Internet address is: http://www.atsdr.gov/toxfaq.html.
Where can I get more information?
LaNetta Alexander, Director
Environmental Epidemiology Section
Indiana State Department of Health
(317) 351-7190 Ext 262