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Case Types We Handle
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Case Types We Handle
Personal Injuries
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Truck Accidents
Motorcycle Accidents
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FAQ: How Are Humans Exposed to PCBs? [2024 Guide]

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How Are Humans Exposed to PCBs? Let's Discuss.

Question: How are humans exposed to PCBs?

Answer: Humans may be exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) through inhalation or ingestion of PCB particles, direct skin contact, and other forms of exposure.

On this page, we’ll discuss this question in further depth, go over sources of exposure to PCBs, how PCB lawsuits can help victims, and much more.

PCB Exposure Pathways & Legal Options for People Exposed to PCBs

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are persistent organic pollutants that have been used for vast industrial and commercial applications.

PCBs were used in electrical equipment like capacitors and transformers, and were even used in building materials and fluorescent lights in various structures such as school buildings.

Exposure typically occurs due to inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact.

Health problems linked to PCB exposure include neurological conditions, endocrine problems, birth defects, skin conditions, and potentially other adverse health effects such as cancer.

How Are Humans Exposed to PCBs; How Do People Get Exposed to PCBs; PCB Exposure; PCB Lawsuit; PCB Exposure Lawsuit; Polychlorinated Biphenyls PCBs; PCB Health Effects; PCB Health Risks

Our law firm is currently investigating PCB exposure in school buildings, particularly in St. Louis, MO.

If you’ve been exposed to PCBs in a St. Louis area school and developed illness or injuries associated with PCB exposure, you may be eligible to file a claim.

Contact TorHoerman Law for a free case evaluation.

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

Previous litigation and scientific studies have revealed the health effects associated with exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls, as well as the fact that Monsanto knew about the potential dangers of exposure.

To learn more about potential lawsuits for individuals exposed to PCBs, contact our law firm.

We’re here to help you.

Table of Contents

What are Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)?

Polychlorinated biphenyls are a group of synthetic organic compounds, consisting of more than 200 chlorinated chemicals called congeners.

PCBs have several characteristics that made them ideal for electrical equipment and other applications in the past.

What Are Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

PCBs are stable and resistant to heat, making them useful components for transistors, capacitors, transformers, fluorescent lighting ballasts, and more.

Polychlorinated biphenyls were banned for manufacturing under the Toxic Substances Control Act, but these chemicals still remain in some areas.

The History of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

Polychlorinated biphenyls were first synthesized in the early 1880s by Schmidt and Schultz and were commercially produced beginning in 1929 by the Swann Chemical Company in St. Louis, MO.

The dangers of PCBs were evident as early as the 1930s, with reported health problems in workers and acknowledgments of their toxicity at a Harvard School of Public Health meeting.

Despite this early awareness, significant action took decades to materialize.

PCBs were widely used due to their exceptional electrical insulating properties and chemical stability.

These properties made them ideal for use in electrical equipment like transformers and capacitors.

Monsanto manufactured PCBs under the trade name Aroclor.

PCBs were popularized by Monsanto in the 1930s, finding uses in a numbers of applications and also becoming integral in the production of vehicles, machines, and other wartime products during World War Two.

Research has indicated PCB contamination in the sediment of naval shipyards, and PCB mixtures were found in various ship components.

Specifically, PCB mixtures were used to insulate cables and wiring on ships, and heavy manufacturing sites used PCB transformers.

PCBs were also used in the manufacturing of weapons and projectiles, and found their way into Agent Orange chemicals when manufacturing was accelerated during the Vietnam War.

Until they were banned for manufacturing, PCBs were widely employed in various industrial applications due to their resistance to heat, electricity, and chemical degradation.

The History Of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

Polychlorinated biphenyls were used in several products and industries:

  1. Electrical Equipment: PCBs were extensively used in electrical transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment due to their ability to withstand high temperatures and their electrical insulating properties.
  2. Fluorescent Light Ballasts: PCBs were also used in the ballasts of old fluorescent lighting fixtures, where they served as an insulator and to prevent fires.
  3. Hydraulic Systems: PCBs were used as hydraulic fluids in certain types of equipment due to their non-flammability and stability.
  4. Heat Transfer Fluids: PCBs were used in heat transfer systems, such as those used in heavy industry and in the manufacturing of certain artillery shells during WWII.
  5. Lubricants: Some specialized lubricants contained PCBs, particularly where high temperature and pressure resistance was needed.
  6. Plasticizers: PCBs were used to make plastics more flexible and were found in products like paints, sealants, adhesives, and elastic sealants.
  7. Paints, Caulking, and Coatings: PCBs were used as additives in certain types of paints, including “cold plastic antifouling” paint for ship hulls to prevent marine organism growth.
  8. Cable Insulation: Electrical cables, particularly those used on naval ships, were insulated with materials that could contain up to 20% PCBs.
  9. Rubber Products: PCBs were sometimes used in rubber products to improve performance.
  10. Carbonless Copy Paper: PCBs were used in some types of carbonless copy paper until the 1970s.
  11. Flame Retardants: PCBs were used in products that required a high degree of fire resistance.

Banning of PCBs (Toxic Substances Control Act)

For decades, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were in mainstream use — until their ban in the late 1970s.

Polychlorinated biphenyls were banned for manufacturing under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the same law that banned the use of asbestos, radon, and lead-based paint.

During the 70s, there were growing concerns about the environmental and human health effects of PCBs.

Because of their non-biodegradability, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) remained stable and accumulated in the environment and the food chain.

Banning Of PCBs (Toxic Substances Control Act) (2)

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PCBs persist in the soil and water, leading to contaminated plants and animals.

PCB-contaminated fish have become a significant concern in contaminated lakes and waterways.

The Environmental Protection Agency also found that PCBs remained inside the body for long periods, with the organic particles lodging in organ tissues and body fat.

These findings were confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Scientific studies conducted on individuals and workers exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls have found increased risks of cancer, neurological disorders, birth defects, and more.

PCBs have been categorized as cancer causing chemicals by multiple organizations and agencies.

The Dangers of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are dangerous due to their effects on human health and the environment.

PCBs are extremely resilient and bioaccumulative.

As bioaccumulative chemicals, they can build up in the body over time due to chronic exposure, later reaching toxic levels.

PCBs affect various parts of the body, particularly the endocrine, respiratory, and nervous system.

The Dangers Of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

Individuals exposed to PCBs often report adverse symptoms and health effects, which include:

  • Neurological disorders
  • Endocrine dysfunction
  • Impaired reproduction
  • Recurrent respiratory problems
  • Immune system problems
  • Liver damage
  • Birth defects

Besides the above health effects, PCBs have also been linked to cancer.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, PCBs are on the list of probable human carcinogens.

Those exposed to PCBs are at an increased risk of developing cancers like non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, lung cancer, and liver cancer.

Scientific research indicates that PCBs affect breast milk.

Pregnant mothers may pass these toxic substances on to their children who may later on experience delays in neurological development.

Sources of Exposure to PCBs: Where are PCBs Found?

PCBs are found in industrial operations, hazardous waste sites, electrical equipment like old fluorescent lighting fixtures, buildings that have not been remediated, and much more.

Due to the bioaccumulative nature of the chemical, PCB levels are high in the environment surrounding waste sites, potentially seeping into groundwater and sediment.

Due to their occurrence in many places, exposure to PCBs can happen in various ways to both workers and the general population.

Sources Of Exposure To PCBs_ Where Are PCBs Found

Individuals may become exposed to PCBs through:

  • Old Electrical Devices and Equipment
  • Building Materials in Old Buildings
  • Contaminated Lakes, Rivers, and Waterways
  • Contaminated soil
  • Contaminated Food
  • Breast milk
  • Spills and contaminated sites
  • Occupational exposure

Old Electrical Devices and Equipment

Between 1930 and 1977, PCBs were extensively used in electrical PCB transformers and capacitors due to their insulating properties.

For this reason, older electrical devices can become sources of PCB exposure, especially during disposal.

Aging equipment or improper disposal methods may lead to leaks and releases of PCBs.

Even minute cracks in these devices can allow PCBs to escape, putting those in the vicinity at risk of exposure.

Over time, electrical components may degrade, making them silent sources of exposure, particularly in older buildings and industrial settings.

Old Electrical Devices And Equipment

Electrical equipment that historically contained PCBs include:

  • Electrical transformers
  • Electrical capacitors
  • Fluorescent lighting ballasts
  • Cables and wiring
  • Voltage Regulators
  • Switchgear
  • Hydraulic Systems
  • Cable Insulation
  • Electric Motors

Building Materials in Old Buildings

PCBs were widely used in building and construction materials.

Building Materials In Old Buildings

Commercial PCB mixtures were used as a durable additive in the following products:

  • Paints
  • Caulks
  • Sealants
  • Plastics
  • Flame Retardants in fabrics and upholstery
  • Floor Finishings
  • Adhesives

With time, the PCB coatings in old buildings can degrade, becoming airborne particles that lead to harmful health effects when inhaled.

As a result, indoor air quality — especially in older school buildings — can be compromised, making occupants susceptible to exposure even without direct contact with the deteriorating materials.

Contaminated Water

Water bodies adjacent to industrial sites often become repositories for PCBs.

These chemicals dissolve in water, posing a direct risk to aquatic life and humans who consume contaminated fish or water.

Given the global nature of water systems, PCBs have been found in remote regions, emphasizing the importance of monitoring and filtration processes to ensure safe drinking water.

Filtration and water quality improvement can prevent people from eating contaminated fish and other seafood.

Contaminated Water

PCB contaminated lakes and other waterways marked as EPA Superfund Sites include:

Contaminated Soil

PCBs — being persistent organic pollutants — linger in soil.

Industrial sites, landfills, and even agricultural areas can become contaminated.

People living in these regions face continuous exposure risks.

In agricultural settings, crops grown in PCB-contaminated soil can absorb these chemicals, leading to indirect exposure through the food chain.

Rigorous soil testing and land use regulations are essential to prevent further soil contamination and subsequent human exposure.

Contaminated Soil

Areas categorized by the Environmental Protection Agency as Superfund sites for PCB soil contamination include:

  • Anniston, Alabama: This city harbors a significant Superfund site due to its prolonged history with PCBs, primarily stemming from the production practices of the Monsanto chemical plant established there. The Anniston site has become synonymous with extensive PCB soil contamination and exposure, which has resulted in widespread environmental and health concerns. The manufacturing and disposal processes carried out over several decades led to the release of PCBs into the local ecosystem, affecting the soil, waterways, and possibly the air.
  • Sauget, Illinois:  Home to several Superfund sites that are a result of its industrial history, Monsanto’s main manufacturing plant for PCBs was located in Sauget. These sites have witnessed the release of a range of pollutants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, and other toxic compounds, leading to groundwater, soil, and surface water contamination.
  • Moss Landing, California:  This site along Monterey Bay was contaminated with PCBs from electrical transformers and other equipment, and is designated as a Superfund site. Cleanup efforts have involved removing and treating affected soils.
  • Monroe County, Indiana: This area is the location of multiple EPA Superfund sites, including at a landfill and a stone quarry. Historically, the site’s pollution originates from various manufacturing processes and waste disposal practices that were not environmentally conscious.

Contaminated Food

PCBs accumulate and biomagnify as they move up the food chain.

Smaller organisms may ingest PCB-contaminated sediments, and this contamination could amplify as larger predators consume these smaller organisms.

Contaminated Food

Predatory fish and mammals harbor significantly higher PCB levels from eating contaminated food.

As a result, humans who consumed PCB-contaminated fish are at greater risk of PCB exposure.

Maternal Breast Milk

Maternal exposure to PCBs directly impacts nursing infants.

These chemicals — stored in a mother’s fatty tissues — can find their way into breast milk.

During the nursing stage, infants undergo critical developmental stages.

This makes them vulnerable to the unique risks posed by breastfeeding and PCB exposure.

Maternal Breast Milk

Worse yet, mothers in PCB-contaminated areas don’t need to be symptomatic to be considered at risk.

By not knowing of their exposure to PCBs, they can unknowingly pass on these harmful chemicals to their children.

Accidental Spills

Accidental spills create localized contamination hotspots.

These incidents can occur during transportation or waste disposal and can lead to immediate exposure risks.

The soil and water surrounding the spill site become carriers of PCBs, impacting the nearby population. One example was the spill that took place in Guam in 1987.

On May 26, 1987, more than 20 gallons of PCBs leaked from the Naval Public Works Center in Guam.

Accidental Spills

During the event, at least 250 individuals were exposed to PCBs.

These individuals included cleanup workers and those who worked at the Naval Public Works Center.

They did not have personal protective equipment during the time of the spill, and were required to receive immediate medical attention.

Occupational Exposure to PCBs

Workers in industries linked to PCB usage face direct and often prolonged exposure.

Skin contact with contaminated equipment or inhalation of airborne particles and fumes are primary pathways.

Machines and equipment that contain PCBs may malfunction and spill the chemicals, putting workers at risk of exposure.

The risk is particularly high in facilities without adequate protective measures, like the 1987 Guam spill.

Furthermore, PCB-contaminated clothing and equipment can carry these chemicals home, posing a secondary exposure risk to the workers’ families.

Occupational Exposure To PCBs

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, exposed workers include the following:

  • Electricians
  • Chemical workers
  • Construction workers
  • Maintenance and repair technicians (especially those who repair and maintain transistors and capacitors)
  • Teachers and school staff
  • Firefighters
  • Waste management and landfill workers

What Injuries and Illnesses Have Been Linked to PCB Exposures?

Several illnesses have been linked to PCB exposure.

The CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) emphasized that prolonged exposure to PCBs leads to various cancers and cardiovascular illnesses.

The agency’s toxicology profile on PCBs also found increased mortality among workers who were exposed to these substances for years.

What Injuries And Illnesses Have Been Linked To PCB Exposures

Other illnesses associated with prolonged PCB exposures include the following:

The ATSDR also found increased incidences of certain cancers in workers exposed to PCBs.

First, the agency discovered through numerous studies that those exposed for years developed liver cancer.

Besides liver cancer, the following cancers have also been linked to PCB exposure:

  • Biliary tract cancer
  • Pituitary tumors
  • Gastric cancer
  • Thyroid cancer

If you’ve suffered any of these illnesses from PCB exposure, you may be eligible for a claim.

Contact us at TorHoerman Law for a free consultation or use the chatbot on this page to determine your eligibility instantly.

Preventing Exposure to PCBs and Other Chemicals

Given the hazardous effects of PCBs, the ATSDR issued guidelines on preventing PCB exposure.

These guidelines also extend to other cancer-causing chemicals.

Preventing Exposure To PCBs And Other Chemicals

According to the ATSDR’s preventive guidelines, exposed individuals must:

  • Practice skin hygiene to eliminate traces of PCBs
  • Discard used clothing if PCB exposure is suspected
  • Stay away from areas with known PCB contamination (local authorities issue advisories)

Those who manage workplaces like schools are also advised to take the following actions:

  • Eliminate PCBs and implement isolation measures for those exposed
  • Provide adequate ventilation to minimize inhalation exposure
  • Establish decontamination and disposal protocols
  • Conduct a review of fixtures, particularly on dated light fixtures and electrical components like PCB capacitors
  • Clearly label PCB storage areas
  • Conduct environmental sampling to determine contamination levels near schools and other buildings

The guidelines also include a list of things to monitor if a patient seeks medical treatment:

  • Abnormally high or low thyroid hormone levels
  • Acne-like skin conditions (indicative of acute and direct PCB exposure)
  • Elevated liver enzymes

What Is the PCB Exposure Lawsuit?

PCB exposure lawsuits are legal actions taken against the manufacturers of PCBs.

Lawsuits have been filed by many individuals, but the most pressing claims have come from those exposed to PCBs in schools.

PCB exposures in schools occur due to the PCB content of some building materials.

These building materials are more likely to be present in school buildings built between 1930 and 1977.

Besides building materials, old electrical devices like PCB capacitors and light fixtures are also sources of PCB exposure.

The PCB content in these devices can become airborne over time, leading to inhalation exposure.

Due to the risks posed by PCBs, manufacturers are potentially liable for knowingly placing school workers, students, and teachers at risk of exposure.

What Is The PCB Exposure Lawsuit

Our law firm is currently investigating PCB levels and exposures at schools in St. Louis, MO.

If you or a loved one were exposed to PCBs while attending or working at a St. Louis school and subsequently developed health problems, you may be eligible to file a claim.

Contact TorHoerman Law for a free consultation.

Use the chatbot on this page to find out if you qualify to file a PCB exposure lawsuit claim instantly.

Who Are the Defendants in the PCB Exposure Lawsuit?

PCB manufacturers and companies are the defendants in the lawsuits.

Monsanto was the primary manufacturer of polychlorinated biphenyls in the United States.

Although Monsanto was the main provider of commercial PCB mixtures for industrial manufacturers and electrical companies around the country, they are not the only company to be named in lawsuits.

Companies besides Monsanto that have been previously named in PCB exposure cases include:

  • General Electric
  • Westinghouse Electric Corporation
  • Asea Brown Boveri (ABB)
  • Siemens
  • Numerous other companies producing electrical devices

Of the companies mentioned, Monsanto is the one that receives the largest share of lawsuits.

This is because the company manufactured roughly 99% of the PCB mixtures and products sold inside the United States.

As a result of the company’s reach, it’s on the receiving end of lawsuits from various jurisdictions and school boards.

Do You Qualify for the PCB Lawsuit?

Polychlorinated biphenyls are dangerous cancer causing chemicals that have been found in older buildings, particularly schools, across the United States.

Lawyers are investigating instances of prolonged exposure suffered by students and faculty at schools that are known to have contained PCB electrical equipment, building materials, and other sources of contamination.

Do You Qualify For The PCB Lawsuit

If you or a loved one were exposed to PCBs in a St. Louis school and subsequently developed related health problems, diseases, or disorders, you may be eligible to file a PCB exposure claim.

Contact TorHoerman Law for a free consultation.

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

To determine eligibility, you must prove several things to maximize your chances of a successful claim

Gathering Evidence for PCB Exposure Claims

Evidence is important for any mass tort or personal injury case.

Gathering Evidence For PCB Exposure Claims

In a PCB exposure case, evidence could include the following:

  • Medical records
  • Employment records
  • School records
  • Residential information
  • Any other proof of exposure to PCBs and subsequent health effects

Assessing Damages in PCB Exposure Lawsuit

Damages refer to the total amount of losses related to being exposed to PCBs and the health effects that may be related.

Assessing Damages For PCB Exposure

Damages in a potential PCB Lawsuit may include:

  • Medical bills
  • Future medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional damages
  • Lost quality of life
  • Permanent disability
  • Other compensatory and punitive damages

TorHoerman Law: Investigating PCB Lawsuits

We are investigating litigation on behalf of those affected by PCBs in schools.

If you’ve been exposed to PCBs and have developed illnesses associated with PCB exposure, we are here to help. Reach out to find out if you qualify for a claim.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What Are PCBs and Why Are They Harmful to Human Health?

    PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are synthetic chemicals once used in various industrial applications.

    There are numerous different variations of the chemical, known as PCB congeners.

    Exposure to PCBs for very long periods of time has been linked to severe health problems and abnormal responses in the immune system and endocrine system.

    PCBs persist in the environment, bioaccumulate in living organisms, and have been linked to serious health issues in humans.

    Animal studies have revealed distinct health effects of PCBs, and long-term studies on the effects of PCBs on human health have shown that the implications of exposure are far-reaching.

  • How Can People Be Exposed to PCBs?

    Individuals can be exposed to PCBs in a number of ways.

    Occupational exposure and prolonged airborne inhalation are the most common routes of exposure to PCBs.

    PCB exposure can occur through inhalation of contaminated air, ingestion of contaminated water or food (especially fish), direct skin contact with PCB-containing materials, and breastfeeding from mothers exposed to PCBs.

  • What Are the Health Risks Associated With PCB Exposure?

    Scientific evidence dating back over 30 years has linked to the development of serious and adverse health effects.

    Several organizations have categorized PCBs as a probable human carcinogen.

    Health effects related to PCB exposure include:

    • Multiple types of cancer
    • Reproductive and developmental issues, such as decreased birth weight
    • Immune system disorders
    • Neurological disorders
    • Liver damage
    • Endocrine disruption
    • Other health effects

Written By:
Tor Hoerman

Tor Hoerman

Owner & Attorney - TorHoerman Law

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