Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are a class of highly stable organic compounds with good electrical insulating and dielectric properties. PCBs were used for many years in heavy duty electrical equipment, and for many other applications. Eventually, their health and environmental effects began to be understood, and their use was banned by Federal law in 1979. However, PCB-containing equipment can still be found in many facilities. Facilities managers need to be aware of the rules that apply to any PCBs that may exist on their sites, particularly during renovations.
For decades, PCBs were widely used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications, including dielectric fluids in electrical equipment like transformers and capacitors, heat transfer fluids, hydraulic fluids, plasticizers in paints, plastics and rubber products, as "vehicles" in pigments, dyes and carbonless copy paper and in many other applications. PCBs were valued for their non-flammability, chemical stability, high boiling point and electrical insulating properties. More than 1.5 billion pounds of PCBs were manufactured in the United States prior to cessation of production in 1977.
Unfortunately, PCBs were later found to have a number of harmful effects. They were also so stable that, once released into the environment, they could persist for decades. Once ingested by organisms, they were found to accumulate in tissues (being fat soluble, they could pass into fatty tissue, but being non-water soluble, they could not readily be excreted again). They would then become more concentrated as material from lower organisms moved up the food chain, ultimately causing deleterious health effects in humans.
U.S. EPA PCB Home Page. Starting point for EPA PCB resources.
U.S. EPA Laws and Regulations Covering PCBs. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) became law on October 11, 1976. The Act authorized EPA to secure information on all new and existing chemical substances, as well as to control any of the substances that were determined to cause unreasonable risk to public health or the environment. The current PCB regulations were published pursuant to this act.