The Risk of PCB Exposure
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) production in the US stopped in 1977, but exposure is still a very real possibility. PCBs were used mainly for industrial capacitors and transformers, many of which are still being used today. Old refrigerators, air conditioners, televisions, and electrical devices may also contain PCB. PCBs can leak into the air when any of these devices are in operation, which means air in confined spaces can actually have higher levels of PCB than outdoors. Anyone in the same room or building as any machine containing PCB risks exposure through the skin or by breathing tainted air.
People can get exposed to PCBs even if they are nowhere near high concentrations of the compound. It can be through contaminated produce from South Carolina, contaminated fish or seafood from the Great Lakes area, or from contact with a leaky capacitor in the television in your home. You can also breathe in contaminated air from a building demolition. The water from your tap most likely contains PCBs as well.
PCB is everywhere, because the wind and water can carry them everywhere. They are found in drinking water, soil, and the atmosphere. Levels of Monsanto PCBs in the US have definitely gone down since it was banned. Researchers estimate that the average human took in 0.7 nanograms of PCB daily in 1991, compared to 1.9 nanograms in 1977.
However, scientists believe PCB levels will never go down to zero. PCBs can be hard to find. Manufacturers like Monsanto have been dumping PCB waste materials in rivers and landfills for decades. PCBs may lay dormant in the sediment in riverbeds for decades until something happens that disturb them, such as dredging operations. They are also hard to neutralize because it requires complex, and expensive, processes.
It is impossible to prevent some level of PCB exposure. There are massive operations to clean up areas with the worst contaminations, but it is slow going. The fact is, PCBs are here to stay. The best thing to do is not to make it worse.