PCBs in the Built Environment
Senior Project Manager at TRC Companies and Past-Chair of AIHA’s IEQ Committee
Jan 8, 2015 – Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) were first manufactured in the 1920s and used in a number of different industrial and commercial applications, including electrical equipment, hydraulic fluids and insulating materials. Manufacture of PCBs was subsequently prohibited in 1979 by the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) due to environmental concerns. Most EHS professionals are likely familiar with PCBs use in transformer, capacitor and light ballast fluids, and the hazards posed when these ‘closed’ applications containers rupture and spill. However, PCBs were also used in a variety of ‘open’ applications, including caulks, adhesives and paints. There is a growing concern that these materials may pose a health risk to building occupants, building maintenance workers and construction workers during building renovation.
It’s estimated that over 154 million pounds of PCBs were sold in the United States between 1958 and 1971 for use in ‘open’ applications. One Canadian study reported that approximately 27% of non-residential buildings in Toronto were found to contain detectible quantities of PCB in sealants. Since approximately 46% of public and private schools in the United States currently in use were built between 1958 and 1971, it stands to reason that many of these schools may have PCB-containing caulking or other products present. The extent of release and the level of hazard that in-place, intact, PCB-containing materials may present to building occupants is unclear at this time. However, damage or removal of these materials during routine maintenance or building renovation may increase the release of PCBs and subsequent exposure to building occupants, maintenance personnel or construction workers.
For more information on the subject, including a detailed discussion on PCBs, concerns regarding PCBs in the built environment and a list of reference documents, please refer to the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s White Paper on PCBs in the Built Environment, which is available on AIHA’s website (www.aiha.org).