PCBs have been in the news recently with a growing number of lawsuits against Monsanto, the company which manufactured the chemicals. Lawsuits have been filed by San Diego, San Jose, Oakland and Spokane against Monsanto for PCBs found in city storm water and urban runoff. Lawsuits against Monsanto have also been filed for PCBs in schools in Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Read more here and here.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a mixture of individual chemicals which were widely used until their use was banned in the late 1970’s. PCBs are environmentally persistent and have a wide range of documented detrimental health effects impacting the neurological development of children. PCBs also impact the reproductive and immune system, are an endocrine disruptor, and a potential carcinogen. These chemicals are highly regulated by the US EPA under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA).
PCBs were widely used in industrial settings, electrical equipment, hydraulic fluids and in some coatings. More recently, PCBs have been identified as a potential concern due to their presence in building materials. The EPA has indicated that it believes there was a potential for the wide use of PCBs in construction materials used in schools and other structures including light ballasts associated with fluorescent fixtures, caulking, paint and, to a lesser extent, other construction materials manufactured between the 1950s through 1979.
Occupant exposure to PCBs may occur through inhalation of airborne PCBs or from ingesting dusts containing PCBs. Dermal exposure is also a potential pathway for exposure and is well documented in industrial settings.
Most building owners and operators are aware of the presence of PCBs in light ballasts and are aware of the regulations surrounding their proper handling and disposal. Building owners and operators (as well as the rest of us) are now gaining a better understanding as to the potential extent and impact that PCBs in building materials presents.
PCBs were added to caulking and sealants because of their elastic properties. Caulking and other sealant materials can be found in locations where gaps between building materials such as masonry features, building joints, window and door frames. It is believed that PCBs may off-gas from the caulking materials which could contribute to elevated airborne levels of PCBs. Additionally, it is important to note that PCBs have been found to leach out of the caulking or sealant material and into construction materials such as stucco and concrete. Uncontrolled disturbance of these construction materials may cause the aerosolization of dust particles containing PCBs which can be inhaled or ingested by building occupants.
The EPA has identified what they term secondary sources. Secondary sources are materials which have become impacted by primary sources. In the example used above where PCBs containing caulking impacted adjacent stucco, the caulking would be the primary source and the stucco would be the secondary source.
In order to limit the building occupant’s potential exposure of PCBs the EPA has developed Best Management Plans (BMPs) to address the presence of PCBs containing caulking which include:
In place management of the materials can be completed by
Other materials identified as potentially containing PCBs in the building environment include: fluorescent light ballasts, paints and other coatings, ceiling tiles, adhesives, window glazing, flooring materials and even structural fireproofing.
Most buildings have undergone retrofits of lighting systems and it is likely that PCB containing ballasts have been removed as a result. Ballasts manufactured after 1978 until 1998 should be clearly marked by the manufacturer with a note indicated “No PCBs”. Ballasts manufactured after 1998 are not required to be labeled “No PCBs” but are not considered to be a potential source. If you suspect that your building contains older ballasts which may contain PCBs, special care should be taken to identify and properly handle leaking ballasts. Further, proper packing and disposal is required. The EPA recommends removing these older light ballasts which contain PCBs because they have well exceeded their useful lifespan.
Building owners and managers should consider an assessment of their facilities to determine potential risks and swift mitigation measures. An assessment can be conducted swiftly and cost-effectively.
USEPA Practical Actions for Reducing Exposure to PCBs in Schools and Other Buildings (2015)
USEPA PCBs in Building Materials-Questions and Answers (2015)
If you have questions, need help assessing your risks, or for more information contact Alta at 888-608-3010 or David.Schack@altaenviron.com.