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PCB Toxic Exposure

The next time you think about taking your old radio apart, you had better make sure that you are using gloves and a good-quality face mask. You could be exposing yourself to a high dose of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs.

PCBs are the synthetic compounds that was used in many products, particularly those that involved electronics or electrical wiring. PCBs were excellent for insulating electrical components, and for cooling capacitors and transformers. They were also very useful in many other products for various industries, ranging from construction to medical equipment. It is likely that you have already been exposed to PCBs if you live in a house built before the 1970s.

The first company to produce it in the US in 1929 was Swann Chemical Company, located in Anniston, Alabama. Monsanto Company took over production when it bought out Swann in 1935, and continued to produce PCBs until its ban in the 1970s. Monsanto PCBs were the only ones produced in North America.

Despite PCBs being legal at the time, Monsanto should have known that dumping PCB waste in the river was a very bad idea. As early as 1937, scientists were publishing studies indicating the toxic effects of PCB. The company should have figure out a way to treat PCB waste properly prior to dumping so that the environment can safely contain it. However, that would have been very expensive.

PCBs do not occur naturally. Before its invention in 1881, PCB levels were nonexistent. Today, however, it is found everywhere, including in the arctic. Scientists believe that the primary method of PCB distribution is in the atmosphere, when PCBs rise up from the water during evaporation and it is wafted away. Concentrations of PCB in the air is actually higher indoors than outdoors, probably because PCBs were used in many household products, including paint, cement, PVC pipes, and air conditioners. It also permeates into porous materials such as wood. PCB concentration is higher in urban settings than rural.

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