PCBs Cause Cancer and Exposure Still Rampant
The production of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the U.S. has been banned since 1979. Yet goods containing PCBs are still produced elsewhere and are imported within a number of products that surround us. Ongoing PCB exposure cancer risk has been confirmed by research.
Factory workers followed
The study comes from the University of Milan, where researchers followed factory workers who worked in manufacturing plants that utilized/produced PCBs, and compared the workers’ cancer rates to those of the general population.
The researchers found that the workers exposed to PCBs were nearly four times likely to die from gallbladder cancers and about two-and-a-half times more likely to die from digestive tract cancers. The workers also had more than double the incidence of death from brain cancers compared to the general population.
PCB production banned but exposure is widespread
Animal studies in the 1970s revealed PCBs health risks and they have been banned from production in the U.S. and many other countries during the 1970s and 1980s.
PCBs in certain products were also banned. These are considered dissipation PCB sources, which include paints, pesticides, plasticizers and various commercial goods. In 1979, PCB production was banned altogether in the U.S., after contamination sites were studied more closely.
Yet production of “enclosed use” PCBs continues internationally – and PCB-containing products continue to be imported by U.S. companies. Currently, PCB-containing products include:
- Natural gas pipelines (in compressors, scrubbers, filters and condensate)
- Electric transformers
- Scientific Instruments
- Hydraulic systems
- Mining equipment
- Electromagnets, switches
- Voltage regulators
- Circuit breakers
- Electric cable
- Recycled building materials such as asphalt roofing shingles
Thus we find that while PCBs are no longer found in our paints and new building materials, every new building will likely contain PCBs within its electric wiring systems and possibly roofing materials.
PCB contamination also exists in environment
Thus sources of potential PCB contamination still exist within our environment as power lines and transformers begin to degrade, or as pipelines become older. And as many motors with hydraulic systems get salvaged or put into municipal waste facilities, the risk of exposure increases.
This risk is in addition to the risk of materials that used PCBs prior to the 1979 ban in the U.S. For example, many of the caulking, paints and adhesives found in older buildings contain PCBs. Some of these buildings are schools. And prior to 1976, production facilities regularly burned off PCBs and released them into the environment, polluting air, rivers and soils.
PCBs degrade slowly and have been found bioaccumulating within many species, including humans.
And this does not even touch upon the increased risk of exposure for workers in those plants that produce PCB-containing materials.
Besides cancer, PCBs have been connected with liver damage, kidney conditions, endocrine issues (such as thyroid conditions) and skin disorders. PCB exposure can produce immediate weight loss, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, headaches, dizziness and abdominal pain.
Monsanto was the leading producer of PCBs in the United States before the U.S. ban. And PCB contamination still exists in those areas where their PCB plants were located. Its spun-off and now bankrupt subsidiary, Solutia, Inc. has inherited the financial liabilities for the massive PCB contamination of places like Sauget, IL and Anniston, AL.
The central question is why are PCB-containing products still in production at all? And why are our home builders and electricians still being exposed?
The answer is that past and future corporate profits outweigh the cost in human health.
Pesatori AC, Grillo P, Consonni D, Caironi M, Sampietro G, Olivari L, Ghisleni S, Bertazzi PA. Update of the mortality study of workers exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (Pcbs) in two Italian capacitor manufacturing plants. Med Lav. 2013 Mar-Apr;104(2):107-14.
Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Fact Sheet: Sources of Polychlorinated Bisphenyls.
Markowitz G., Rosner D. Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution. Univ of Cal Press, 2002.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Case Studies in Environmental Medicine: Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) Toxicity. Course SS3067. 2000 Sept.