FAQ: What Products Contain PCBs? [2024 Guide]

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What Products Contain PCBs?

Question: What products contain PCBs?

Answer: Products that contain PCBs include old fluorescent lighting fixtures, caulking, electrical transformers, electrical capacitors, and various industrial equipment.

PCBs are also found in certain types of paints, adhesives, and waterproofing materials, reflecting their widespread use before being banned due to health and environmental risks.

PCB Exposure Pathways and Adverse Health Effects

Over the decades, severe concerns about environmental pollutants have heightened, drawing attention to substances that have silently infiltrated our daily lives.

Mass amounts of scientific research, governmental regulation, and critical attention has been focused on pollutants such as pesticides, toxic wastes, and other chemicals with industrial and commercial applications.

Laws have been passed limiting the use of toxic substances, but dangers still persist in a vast amount of industries and areas.

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Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are at the forefront of this concern, posing significant risks to human health and the environment.

PCBs affect more than environmental health.

Polychlorinated biphenyls are categorized as probable human carcinogens, have been linked to immune system disorders and endocrine effects, and prenatal PCB exposure may be linked to birth defects.

The health risks of prolonged exposure to PCBs cannot be overstated.

If you’ve already been exposed to PCBs, you may be eligible to hold manufacturers and producers of commercial PCB mixtures and products liable.

Contact TorHoerman Law for a free consultation.

You can also use the chatbot on this page to find out if you qualify for the PCB exposure lawsuit instantly.

Our attorneys are currently investigating PCB exposures in school buildings, particularly in St. Louis, Missouri.

Reach out to our attorneys for information regarding PCB Lawsuits.

Table of Contents

What Are Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)?

Polychlorinated biphenyls are a group of synthetic organic chemicals characterized by their unique chemical structure.

PCBs belong to a class of compounds known as organochlorides: organic compounds containing carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine atoms.

PCBs are odorless, tasteless, and colorless compounds that were first synthesized in the late 19th century.

After they were synthesized, the Swann Chemical Company of St. Louis, MO began commercial production of PCBs, and with the company being absolved, its operations were acquired by what would be later known as Monsanto.

Biocidal: Confronting the Poisonous Legacy of PCBs, an investigative book by journalist Ted Dracos, examines the initial uses of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the chemical’s role in the expansion of America’s electrical grid, and the tragic widespread contamination that followed.

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Theodore Swann, an industrialist from Alabama, sought to commercially produce a heat transfer fluid for electrical companies so that transformers would keep cool and explosions could be avoided.

Through trial and error, and mass amounts of toxic exposure, the chemists employed by Swann discovered methods to not only create polychlorinated biphenyls, but to manufacture them on a large scale.

Years and years later, scientists are finding PCBs across the world, in the body fat of wildlife, in the natural environment, and in humans.

The widespread use of PCBs in electrical equipment and other materials has exposed countless individuals to the toxic substances, resulting in severe health effects.

Chemical Properties of PCBs

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of synthetic organic chemicals characterized by 1 to 10 chlorine atoms attached to biphenyl, which is composed of two benzene rings.

This chlorine substitution makes PCBs highly stable and resistant to heat and chemical degradation, properties that made them ideal as heat transfer fluids in electrical equipment.

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The chemical structure of PCBs, with the variable number and position of chlorine atoms, allows for 209 different congeners, each with unique properties.

This versatility also led to their use in a variety of other applications, including as plasticizers in paints, as well as in hydraulic systems and sealants, due to their stability and insulating properties.

Physical Properties of PCBs

Understanding the physical properties of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is essential to grasp why they were widely used and how they persist in the environment.

Understanding the properties of PCBs, and the related use cases, also explains the routes by which these chemicals pose extreme risks to human health and ecosystems.

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Here are the key physical properties of PCBs:

  • State at Room Temperature: PCBs can exist in different physical states, ranging from oily liquids to waxy solids, depending on the specific congeners and the number of chlorine atoms attached to the biphenyl structure. Some PCB mixtures are viscous liquids, while others are solid at room temperature. This versatility allowed PCBs to be used in various applications, from liquid-filled transformers to solid construction materials.
  • Indissolubility in Water: One of the defining features of PCBs is their limited solubility in water. PCBs do not readily dissolve in water. Their insolubility makes them immiscible and allows them to persist in aquatic environments. This insolubility contributes to their ability to accumulate in sediments and aquatic organisms, posing risks to marine life and those who consume contaminated food like PCB-contaminated fish.
  • High Boiling Point: PCBs have high boiling points. This means they resist vaporization at relatively high temperatures. This property made them suitable for applications involving high heat, such as in hydraulic systems and heat transfer fluids. The high boiling points allowed PCBs to remain stable and functional in industrial processes and electrical equipment operating at elevated temperatures.
  • Low Volatility: PCBs exhibit low volatility, meaning they do not easily evaporate into the air at normal temperatures. This low volatility contributes to their persistence in the environment, as they do not readily escape into the atmosphere. Instead, they remain in the materials and environments where they were used, continuing to pose risks long after their initial application.
  • Chemical Stability: PCBs are highly stable chemicals, resistant to degradation from heat, light, and chemical processes. This stability contributed to their long lifespan in various products and environments. However, this same stability is what makes PCBs persistent organic pollutants, as they do not break down easily in natural environments. This is why they stay stable in places like hazardous waste sites where they can easily contaminate soil and water.

The History of PCBs

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), first synthesized in 1929, became widely used in various industrial and commercial applications across the United States due to their chemical stability and insulating properties.

Commonly found in electrical equipment, hydraulic systems, and construction materials, PCBs saw peak production in the 1960s and 1970s.

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However, growing awareness of their environmental persistence and bioaccumulation led to a ban on PCB manufacturing in the U.S. under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Despite this ban, the legacy of PCBs remains a significant environmental and public health concern, as they continue to be found in ecosystems and pose risks such as cancer, immune system damage, and endocrine disruption.

The widespread contamination of water systems, soil, and buildings, including schools, has necessitated extensive and costly clean-up efforts, highlighting the long-term implications of their use.

The Beginning of PCB Adoption

The 1920s and 1930s marked the beginning of widespread PCB production, with Monsanto being formed out of business deals with the founder of the Swann Chemical Company.

Catapulting its operations from Swann’s facility in Anniston, Alabama, Monsanto grew to become one of the world’s largest and most profitable chemical manufacturers.

During this period, PCBs were considered revolutionary due to their exceptional chemical stability, electrical insulating properties, and heat resistance.

As Monsanto expanded its PCB production, these chemicals found applications in a diverse range of products, from electrical transformers and capacitors to hydraulic fluids and paint additives.

This versatility led to the widespread adoption of PCBs in numerous industries, significantly boosting Monsanto’s growth and market dominance.

The 1930s to the 1970s — the High-Point of PCB Use

Between the 1930s and 1970s, PCBs were utilized in a multitude of industries, becoming integral components in various products.

Their heat resistance and non-flammable nature made them useful in electrical equipment, including transformers and capacitors.

Mass industrialization and manufacturing for the United States Military in World War Two also heavily increased the use and applications of PCB mixtures.

Industries such as electrical engineering, automotive, aerospace, and heavy machinery relied heavily on PCBs to ensure the safety and efficiency of their products and processes.

PCBs also were adopted into construction materials like paints, sealants, and caulking compounds, as their water-resistant properties made them desirable for enhancing the durability of structures.

During the mid-20th century, PCBs were commonly incorporated into various building materials used in schools and other public structures, greatly expanding their presence in everyday environments.

This included their use in the caulking and sealants around windows and doors, where their flexibility and durability were highly valued.

Additionally, PCBs were found in the mastic adhesives under floor tiles and in some types of paint, contributing to their widespread presence in educational institutions.

In schools specifically, PCBs were often present in fluorescent light ballasts, where their ability to withstand high temperatures and prevent fires was crucial.

However, this widespread use in schools led to unintended chronic exposure risks for students and staff, as these materials aged and deteriorated, releasing PCBs into the indoor environment.

Post-1970s: Emergence of Harmful Effects and Awareness

As the use of PCBs became widespread, so did the mounting evidence of their harmful effects on human health and the environment.

In the 1960s and 1970s, scientific studies began revealing the toxic nature of PCBs.

Researchers found that PCB exposure was linked to a range of health issues, including skin conditions, liver damage, and respiratory problems.

PCBs, along with other ubiquitous contaminants like DDT, were discovered to be persistent organic pollutants, meaning they didn’t break down easily and could accumulate in the environment and the food chain.

Public awareness of PCB dangers grew, prompting regulatory action.

In 1976, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the production of PCBs under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

However, the legacy of PCBs persisted in the form of existing products and contaminated sites, especially in older buildings and electrical equipment.

Efforts to remediate and remove PCBs from these environments has become a significant challenge, leading to legal actions against entities responsible for PCB contamination.

Understanding the Environmental and Health Effects of PCBs

Despite the widespread ban for manufacturing and use, PCBs continue to threaten the environment and human health.

Although the manufacturing and use of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been banned due to their environmental and health hazards, their legacy continues to pose risks.

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The widespread application of PCBs in various industries in the past has resulted in persistent environmental contamination, as these chemicals can remain in soil, water, and sediments for decades.

Humans and wildlife are still at risk of exposure to PCBs through the food chain, particularly from fish and other animals living in contaminated areas.

The enduring presence of PCBs in older buildings and electrical equipment also remains a concern, as these sources can still release PCBs into the environment and expose humans to these hazardous chemicals.

The Effects of PCBs on Environmental Health

PCBs remain a consistent environmental threat to the soil and food chains, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA has classified PCBs to be among the most persistent organic pollutants of any environmental substance due to their qualities.

PCBs can accumulate to toxic levels in the environment, particularly in organisms.

When organisms at lower trophic levels (such as algae and small invertebrates) are exposed to PCBs, these chemicals enter their tissues, particularly body fat.

As larger organisms consume smaller ones, PCBs become more concentrated in higher trophic levels, leading to biomagnification.

This process results in elevated PCB levels in predators, including fish, birds, and mammals, posing serious threats to entire ecosystems.

With more organisms exposed to PCBs, other animals in the food chain can suffer the health effects of PCB exposure.

Fish and other aquatic organisms exposed to PCBs may experience reproductive problems and impaired immune function, leading to population declines.

Additionally, PCBs can cause deformities and other abnormalities in aquatic species, affecting the overall health of ecosystems.

The Human Health Effects of PCBs

Several agencies have classified PCBs as probable cancer-causing chemicals.

These agencies include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Prolonged exposure to PCBs has been linked to various cancers, including liver cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

PCBs can disrupt the normal regulation of cell growth, leading to the development of cancerous cells.

PCB congeners accumulate in tissues like body fat.

As a result, they can also cross over to breast milk, placing infants at risk for neurodevelopmental conditions and slow growth patterns.

Eating contaminated fish has also been associated with several illnesses.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), eating contaminated food can cause reproductive disease and developmental effects on older children.

The public health effects of PCB exposure mentioned make up just the tip of the iceberg.

If you’ve been exposed to PCBs (particularly in a school building), and developed illnesses associated with exposure, you may be eligible to file a PCB exposure lawsuit.

Contact TorHoerman Law for a free case evaluation.

You can also use the chatbot on this page to find out if you qualify for a claim instantly.

What Products Contain PCBs?

Understanding where PCBs are commonly found is crucial for identifying potential sources of exposure, particularly in older buildings such as schools and public facilities.

Most importantly, identifying PCB sources can help establish where you may have been exposed.

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PCBs have been used in components of various products and items, including:

  • Electrical devices and equipment
  • Building materials
  • Electrical transformers and capacitors
  • Hydraulic systems
  • Plasticizers in paints, plastics, and rubber products
  • Flame retardants
  • Adhesives and sealants
  • Lubricating and cutting oils
  • Carbonless copy paper
  • Caulking
  • Thermal insulation material
  • Fluorescent light ballasts
  • Microscope immersion oil
  • Voltage regulators
  • Switchgear and electromagnets
  • Cable insulation
  • Waterproofing compounds

PCB Lighting Fixtures in School Buildings

PCBs were prevalent in fluorescent light ballasts in schools, where they used in regulating the flow of electricity and preventing overheating.

These ballasts, often installed in large numbers in school classrooms and hallways, contained PCBs due to their ability to withstand high temperatures and their non-flammable properties.

As a result, PCBs became an integral part of the electrical infrastructure in educational buildings, contributing to their widespread presence in schools across the United States.

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However, as these electrical components aged, the risk of PCB leakage increased, particularly in schools built or renovated during the peak years of PCB use, roughly from the 1950s to the 1970s.

This aging infrastructure in schools became a significant source of PCB exposure, as leaks from these components could lead to contamination of the air, surfaces, and even the soil around the buildings.

The potential for chronic exposure in school settings became a major concern, especially given the sensitivity of children to environmental pollutants.

Remediation efforts in schools often involve the replacement of old electrical equipment, but the challenge lies in the extensive nature of PCB use and the costs associated with such large-scale replacements.

PCB Contaminated Building Materials in School Buildings

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) found their way into a variety of building materials in older school buildings, most notably in caulking compounds used around windows and door frames.

Building materials often contained high levels of PCBs to enhance their water and chemical resistance.

In school buildings, PCB-containing caulks were applied extensively in joints, masonry work, and other areas requiring sealants.

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Over time, these caulks can degrade and release PCBs into the surrounding environment, posing a risk to indoor air quality and potentially leading to direct exposure.

The longevity and chemical stability of PCBs mean they can persist in these materials for decades, slowly leaching into the air and onto surfaces where students and staff are at risk of exposure.

Studies have indicated that PCBs can migrate from caulking into adjacent materials such as masonry or wood, further complicating remediation efforts and increasing the potential for widespread contamination.

The discovery of PCBs in school caulking has led to heightened concerns about the indoor air quality in older educational facilities, prompting investigations and remediation efforts.

The process of removing PCB-contaminated caulking is challenging and costly, often requiring complete renovation of the affected areas to ensure complete removal.

Schools across the United States, particularly those built or remodeled during the peak years of PCB use, face the daunting task of addressing this legacy contamination.

The presence of PCBs in caulking and other building materials in older schools underscores the importance of environmental assessments and targeted interventions to safeguard the health of school communities.

PCB Exposure Lawsuit Investigation

The PCB Lawsuit is a term used to refer to a collection of claims that aim to hold manufacturers responsible for PCB exposure accountable and seek compensation for the victims’ pain and suffering.

Current legal investigations into PCB exposure center around the presence of PCBs in schools.

Our law firm is currently investigating PCB exposures in schools in the St. Louis, Missouri area.

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If you or a loved one have been exposed to PCBs in a school building, you may be eligible to file a claim.

Contact TorHoerman Law for a free consultation.

You can also use the chatbot on this page to find out if you qualify to take legal action.

Who are the Plaintiffs in the PCB Exposure Lawsuits?

The PCB lawsuit focuses on individuals who were exposed to PCBs, particularly those who occupied old school buildings where PCBs were present.

These individuals — mainly students, teachers, and staff — suffered severe health problems due to PCB exposure.

Human health effects of PCBs may include cancers like liver cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, developmental disorders affecting children’s learning and memory, and neurological problems.

Who are the Defendants in the PCB Lawsuit?

Monsanto played a central role in the production and distribution of PCBs during their peak usage period.

Monsanto — now a subsidiary of Bayer — was the primary manufacturer of PCBs.

Lawsuits have specifically targeted Monsanto and its subsidiaries for their contribution to PCB contamination.

Other companies are have also been named as defendants in PCB lawsuits, primarily in litigation surrounding certain areas and industrial sites where PCBs were used or disposed of.

Companies other than Monsanto have been held liable for knowingly exposing the public to PCB mixtures and other PCB-containing products.

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Other defendants that have been named in past PCB Lawsuits include:

  • General Electric (GE)
  • Westinghouse Electric Corporation
  • ABB (ASEA Brown Boveri)
  • Siemens
  • Capacitor Manufacturers (e.g., Cornell-Dubilier, Sprague Electric, Illinois Capacitor)

At TorHoerman Law, we aim to hold relevant manufacturers and parties accountable for the illnesses developed from PCB exposure.

If you’ve been exposed to PCBs in school buildings and developed any illnesses associated with exposure, you may be eligible for a claim.

Contact us at TorHoerman Law for a free consultation.

You can also use the chatbot on this page to find out if you qualify for the PCB exposure lawsuit instantly.

TorHoerman Law: Your PCB Lawsuit Attorneys

Our law firm is currently investigating potential litigation for those suffering from exposure to PCBs.

If you or a loved one were exposed to PCBs and subsequently developed health problems, you may be eligible to file a PCB Lawsuit claim.

Contact TorHoerman Law for more information.

You can also use the chatbot on this page for a free and instant case evaluation.

Reach out to us for more information.

We’re here to help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which Products Commonly Contain PCBs?

    PCBs were used in various products and industries.

    Products and areas that may contain PCBs include:

    • Industrial and Electrical Equipment: Transformers, capacitors, ballasts in fluorescent light fixtures, hydraulic systems, circuit breakers, and switchgear.
    • Electronics and Lighting: Cable insulation and ballasts in older fluorescent light fixtures.
    • Building and Construction Materials: Caulking, sealants, waterproofing compounds, paints, varnishes, floor finishes, soundproofing materials, thermal insulation, roofing membranes, wallboard adhesives, fireproofing materials, and gasket materials.
    • Chemical and Laboratory Applications: Laboratory chemicals, catalyst carriers, immersion oils, chemical reagent solvents, heat transfer fluids, carrier fluids in chromatography, and coolants in electrical equipment.
    • Military Applications: Radar systems, hydraulic and heat transfer systems in military vehicles, weapon manufacturing, shipbuilding, aircraft and vehicle coatings.
    • Consumer and Commercial Products: Heat transfer fluids, flame retardants, plasticizers in PVC and other plastics, oil-based paints, carbonless copy paper, dyestuffs, and pigments.
    • Environmental Contamination: Soil near old power stations, riverbeds near industrial discharge points, groundwater adjacent to landfills, and airborne contamination near manufacturing sites.
    • Unverified or Experimental Uses: Pesticide extenders and miscellaneous industrial uses.
    • Miscellaneous Uses: Industrial gloves, high-pressure gas pipeline valve grease, pressure-sensitive record paper, cooling agents in data centers, lubricants in aerospace components, sealants in marine equipment, fireproofing materials in theaters, photographic film developing solutions, rubber products for industrial use, and non-flammable hydraulic fluids in mining equipment.

  • What Is a PCB Mixture?

    A PCB mixture refers to a combination of various polychlorinated biphenyls.

    These mixtures — often found in electrical devices and construction materials — pose serious health risks when released into the environment.

    Prolonged exposure to PCB mixtures can lead to severe health issues, as they are classified as probable human carcinogens, increasing the risk of developing cancers and affecting the neurological and immune systems.

  • Are PCBs Cancer-Causing Chemicals?

    Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are classified as probable human carcinogens.

    The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization, has categorized PCBs as Group 1 carcinogens, which means there is sufficient evidence to conclude that they can cause cancer in humans.

    This classification is based on studies that have shown an increased risk of certain types of cancer in people exposed to high levels of PCBs.

    These studies primarily include occupational exposures where workers were in contact with PCBs over long periods.

    It’s important to note that the risk of developing cancer from PCB exposure depends on various factors, including the level and duration of exposure.

  • What are the health effects associated with PCB exposure in schools?

    Prolonged exposure to PCBs in schools can lead to various health issues, including increased risk of certain cancers, immune system disorders, and endocrine disruptions.

    Children, in particular, may face developmental challenges and neurobehavioral alterations due to their increased vulnerability to these toxic substances.

  • How do PCBs enter the school environment?

    PCBs commonly enter the school environment through aging building materials like caulk, sealants, and fluorescent light ballasts.

    As these materials deteriorate over time, PCBs can be released into the air, posing a risk to students and staff through inhalation and direct contact.

  • Can I take legal action if my child has been exposed to PCBs in their school?

    Yes, if your child has been exposed to PCBs in their school and has suffered health consequences, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit.

    It’s essential to consult with legal experts specializing in environmental law and PCB-related cases for guidance and representation.

Written By:
Tor Hoerman

Tor Hoerman

Owner & Attorney - TorHoerman Law

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