[2023 Guide] PCB Health Effects: PCB Exposure Symptoms & Risks

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been linked to numerous health problems, including cancer.

Learn more about PCB health effects, exposure risks, and chemical history.

Overview of PCB Health Effects, Exposure Symptoms, & Other PCB Health Risks

On this page, we’ll discuss an overview of the known PCB health effects and exposure symptoms, other PCB health risks, where PCBs are commonly found, what to do if you’ve experienced PCB exposure, and much more.

Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) Health Effects: How Exposure to PCBs Affect Human Health

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) are synthetic chemicals that were used in a number of industrial and commercial applications before being banned and restricted.

Despite long-standing PCB regulations, many older buildings may contain PCBs in electrical equipment and old fluorescent lighting fixtures, among other products.

People exposed to PCBs may be at an increased risk to suffer adverse health effects.

Scientific research has found that exposure to PCBs is linked to:

  • Liver cancer
  • Brain cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Liver damage
  • Biliary tract cancer
  • Immune system effects
  • Endocrine system effects
  • Birth defects
  • Other risks to public health

Lawsuits for PCB exposures and subsequent health problems are being investigated.

If you or a loved one suffered from exposure to PCBs for long periods and developed health problems, you may be eligible to file a PCB Lawsuit claim.

Contact TorHoerman Law’s PCB Lawyers for a free consultation.

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

Our attorneys are committed to helping those suffering from harmful health effects related to PCB exposure seek justice.

Reach out to our law firm for more information and to find out if you qualify to take action for exposure to PCBs.

Table of Contents
PCB Health Effects: PCB Exposure Symptoms and Risks; PCB Health Effects; PCB Lawsuit; PCB Exposures; PCB Exposure Lawsuit; Polychlorinated Biphenyls PCBs;

What Health Problems are Linked to PCB Exposure?

Exposure to PCBs has been linked to several harmful health effects, including different types of cancer.

PCBs accumulate in the body over very long periods of time, and the latency period of these cancer causing chemicals is not fully understood.

PCBs are a probable human carcinogen.

Cancer types related to PCB exposures include:

  • Liver cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Intestinal cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Malignant melanoma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Other potential health effects of exposure to PCBs include:

  • Impaired neurological development
    • Short term memory loss
    • Confusion
    • Brain fog
    • Learning disorders
  • Impaired reproduction
    • Decreased birth weight
    • Miscarriage
    • Premature birth
    • Developmental delays
  • Skin conditions
    • Chloracne and other acne like skin conditions
    • Hyperpigmentation
    • Skin sloughing
    • Frequent rashes
  • Effects on the nervous system
  • Effects on thyroid hormone levels

Symptoms of PCB Exposure

Exposure to PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) can lead to a range of health effects and symptoms.

These symptoms can vary depending on the level and duration of exposure, as well as individual factors like age and overall health.

Symptoms of PCB exposure may include:

  • Skin issues like chloracne.
  • Respiratory symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Eye and mucous membrane irritation.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting.
  • Neurological symptoms like headaches and fatigue.
  • Liver damage and elevated liver enzymes.
  • Endocrine system disruption.
  • Reproductive and developmental effects, especially in fetuses and children.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Increased risk of cancer, particularly liver cancer.

PCB Timeline: Discovery of Dangers and Results of Exposure and Contamination

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are categorized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other coveted health organizations as probable human carcinogens.

These toxic substances may pose an extreme risk to human health.

The September 2018 publication “From Industrial Toxins to Worldwide Pollutants: A Brief History of Polychlorinated Biphenyls” provides an overview of PCB use, effects on the environment and health, Monsanto’s culpability, and more.

Insights from “From Industrial Toxins to Worldwide Pollutants: A Brief History of Polychlorinated Biphenyls” include:

  • In 1944, the Industrial Hygiene Research Laboratory of the National Institutes of Health found signs of liver damage in laboratory animals exposed to PCBs. Skin changes were noted in those animals that had direct skin contact or injections with the substance. This research was built upon previous studies from the 1930s that observed harmful effects of PCBs on factory workers involved in its manufacturing.
  • PCBs, denoted by trade names like Aroclor 1242, aren’t a single chemical but a class of chemicals distinguished by their chlorine content. For instance, Aroclor 1242 contains 42% chlorine by weight.
  • Historically, there has been considerable focus on chemicals like dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) due to their environmental impact. But by 1950, the concerns expanded to a broader category of chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons, with warnings about their potential dangers when used extensively.
  • While DDT and related chemicals caught significant public attention, the increasing reliance on electricity and the introduction of new chemicals, including PCBs, raised new challenges. PCBs were initially intended for a wide variety of applications, from electrical equipment to paints, adhesives, and even in chewing gum. Their chemical stability made them valuable in several industries but simultaneously posed considerable environmental risks due to their longevity in the environment.
  • By 1950, besides the already known risks associated with PCBs from the 1930s studies, more reports indicated potential hazards for workers exposed to PCBs in different industrial settings.
  • PCBs, though beneficial for various industrial applications, have been linked to a range of adverse effects on humans and the environment. The legal community must be aware of these historical findings and recent data to address concerns related to their production, use, and subsequent exposure effectively.

Documented PCB Contamination: Anniston, AL

In 1966, local fish populations were dying nearby a Monsanto plant in Anniston, Alabama.

Studies revealed widespread PCB contamination, confirming exposure in wildlife and humans, and even in regions where the chemicals had never been employed.

PCBs were produced in Anniston at a Monsanto plant for over 40 years.

During this period, the facility released PCBs into the environment.

This resulted in contamination of the air, water, and land.

Human exposure to these PCBs led to health concerns and subsequent legal action, resulting in a settlement deal worth over $700 million.

Notably, until 1971, there were no federal or state regulations governing the manufacture or disposal of PCBs.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, investigations revealed elevated levels of PCBs in some residents of Anniston and in local environmental samples.

In 2007, the Snow and Choccolocco creeks still showed elevated pollution levels due to PCB disposal.

A 2012 picture taken by Anniston, AL resident Mathieu Asselin revealed the water in Choccolocco creek was red in color.

To address the contamination, Monsanto and Solutia, Inc. initiated cleanup measures.

These efforts were supervised by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and the US EPA, primarily under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

From 2003 to 2007, the Anniston Environmental Health Research Consortium (AEHRC) conducted the Anniston Community Health Survey.

This was done in collaboration with Jacksonville State University and aimed to further assess the impact of PCB exposure in the community.

PCB Health Effects: Research Studies

Additional scientific studies on the health effects of PCB exposure include:

Governmental Intervention: Banning and Regulating PCBs

The dangers of PCB exposure began to emerge and become more apparent in the mid-20th century.

It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that significant scientific research and evidence started to highlight the harmful effects of PCBs on both the environment and human health.

These studies indicated that PCBs were persistent organic pollutants with toxic properties.

Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976, which banned the manufacture and distribution of PCBs in 1979.

Monsanto knew for over 10 years before PCBs were banned that the chemicals posed an extreme risk to human health and the environment.

Where are PCBs Found?

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have a long history of industrial use, and as a result, they can be found in various places and environments.

Understanding where PCBs are commonly encountered is crucial for minimizing exposure risks.

1. Electrical Equipment:

  • PCBs were extensively used as insulating fluids in electrical transformers and capacitors. Older electrical equipment may still contain PCBs, posing a risk if mishandled or damaged.

2. Fluorescent Light Fixtures:

  • Many older fluorescent light ballasts contained PCBs as cooling and insulating fluids. While newer fixtures are PCB-free, existing older models may still be in use.

3. Construction and Building Materials:

  • PCB-containing sealants and caulking were used in construction for decades. Buildings constructed before PCB regulations may still have these materials in place.

4. Industrial Machinery:

  • Certain industrial processes and equipment used PCBs as hydraulic fluids, lubricants, and heat transfer fluids. Facilities with legacy equipment could have residual PCBs.

5. Paints and Coatings:

  • Some older paints and coatings incorporated PCBs as additives. Buildings with historical paint layers may contain PCBs.

6. Coolants and Lubricants:

  • PCBs were employed in heavy machinery and industrial settings as coolants and lubricants, particularly in metalworking processes.

7. Soil and Sediment:

  • PCBs, when released into the environment, can persist in soil and sediment. Contaminated sites or areas near PCB manufacturing facilities may have elevated PCB levels.

8. Water Bodies:

  • Bodies of water, especially near industrial areas, may contain PCBs. PCBs can accumulate in fish and aquatic organisms, posing a risk to those eating contaminated food.

9. Consumer Products:

  • While their use has declined significantly, some older consumer products like carbonless copy paper and plastic materials may still contain trace amounts of PCBs.

It’s important to note that regulations have significantly reduced the use of PCBs in recent decades.

However, PCBs can still linger in the environment and materials manufactured before the bans.

To address potential exposure risks, it’s crucial to follow safety guidelines, especially when handling or renovating older buildings and equipment.

Regular monitoring and remediation efforts are also essential to mitigate the presence of PCBs in the environment.

Those who have been exposed to PCBs and developed related health problems may be eligible to take legal action against responsible parties.

If you or a loved one were exposed to PCBs and subsequently developed health problems, contact TorHoerman Law for a free consultation.

Our attorneys can help determine if you qualify to file a PCB Exposure Lawsuit.

How are People Exposed to PCBs?

Exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can occur through various pathways, both direct and indirect.

PCBs are persistent pollutants that can be released into the environment and then find their way into the human body through multiple routes.

PCB exposure pathways include:

  • Inhalation of PCBs: Inhalation of PCB-contaminated air is a significant exposure pathway, especially in industrial or indoor settings where PCBs are present. This can happen when PCBs are released into the air during activities like the removal of PCB-containing materials or when PCBs are emitted from electrical equipment.
  • Indoor Air Contaminated with PCBs: PCBs can be released into indoor air from PCB-containing materials, such as old caulking, sealants, or electrical equipment. Occupants of buildings with PCB-containing materials may be exposed to PCBs through indoor air inhalation.
  • Ingestion of PCBs: Consuming food and water contaminated with PCBs is another common exposure pathway. PCBs can accumulate in the fatty tissues of fish, meat, and dairy products, which can then be consumed by humans. Contaminated lakes and other water sources can also be a source of PCB exposure. Eating contaminated fish and other food is highly dangerous.
  • Skin Contact with PCBs: PCBs can be absorbed through the skin, although this is generally considered a less significant exposure pathway compared to inhalation and ingestion. Direct contact with PCB-contaminated materials, such as accidental spills, soil, or certain building materials, can lead to dermal exposure.
  • Occupational Exposure to PCBs: People who work in industries where PCBs are or were used, such as electrical workers, mechanics, and chemical plant employees, can be exposed to PCBs through their work. This can occur through inhalation of PCB vapors, dermal contact with contaminated equipment or materials, or ingestion if workers do not practice proper hygiene.
  • Breast Milk: Infants can be exposed to PCBs through breastfeeding if the mother’s body has accumulated PCBs from prior exposures. PCBs can be transferred to the infant through breast milk.
  • Contaminated Sites: Living near or frequenting areas with PCB-contaminated soil or water can result in exposure. Contaminated sites and hazardous waste sites can release PCBs into the environment, which can then enter the food chain or be inhaled through the air.
  • Consumer Products: Although their use has been restricted, some older consumer products may still contain PCBs. Direct contact with or use of such products can lead to exposure.

Our law firm is investigating prolonged exposure to PCBs in classrooms and school buildings that contain old fluorescent lighting fixtures and PCB-containing electrical equipment.

Despite the banning and regulation of commercial PCB mixtures, PCB levels have remained significant in some school buildings and other older buildings.

TorHoerman Law: Your PCB Lawyers

Our law firm is currently investigating potential litigation for those suffering from exposure to PCBs, particularly in school buildings that contain PCB-containing fluorescent lights and construction materials.

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

  • What Health Effects are Linked to PCB Exposure?

    Potential health effects of exposure to PCBs are various.

    PCBs are a probable human carcinogen, and have been linked to several other non-cancer health problems.

    Adverse health effects linked to PCB exposure include, but are not limited to:

    • Liver cancer
    • Stomach cancer
    • Intestinal cancer
    • Thyroid cancer
    • Malignant melanoma
    • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
    • Birth defects
    • Effects on thyroid hormones
    • Short term memory loss
    • Learning disorders
    • Skin conditions
    • Endocrine disorders
    • Puberty abnormalities
    • Other health issues

  • What are Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Why are they Dangerous?

    Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of synthetic chemicals that were manufactured for various industrial purposes.

    PCBs are dangerous due to their persistent nature in the environment, resistance to breaking down, and ability to accumulate in living organisms.

    PCBs have been linked to a range of health risks in humans, including cancer, reproductive issues, and immune system disorders.

    They can enter the human body through ingestion of contaminated food and water, inhalation of airborne particles, and dermal contact with contaminated materials.

    Because of their toxicity and environmental persistence, PCBs have been banned or heavily restricted in many countries to mitigate their detrimental impacts on human and environmental health.

    What Products Contain Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)?

    Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have largely been banned, restricted, and disposed of in the United States.

    However, some older buildings and products still contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

    Products and areas where polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can be found or have been historically used include:


    • Electrical Transformers
    • Electrical Capacitors
    • Fluorescent Light Ballasts (older fixtures)
    • Caulking and Sealants (in older buildings)
    • Hydraulic Fluids (in older machinery)
    • Paints and Coatings (some older formulations)
    • Coolants and Lubricants (in industrial equipment)
    • Carbonless Copy Paper (historically, in the manufacturing process)
    • Molded Plastic and Rubber Products (some older materials)


    • Buildings with PCB-containing materials (e.g., old fluorescent lighting fixtures, caulking, sealants)
    • Contaminated Soil (from historical releases)
    • Contaminated Water (from historical releases)
    • Industrial Facilities (where PCBs were used)
    • Electrical Substations (containing PCB transformers)
    • Bodies of Water (where PCBs may have accumulated in fish)
    • Hazardous Waste Sites (contaminated with PCBs)
    • Areas near PCB manufacturing facilities (historical exposure risks)

    The use of PCBs has been heavily regulated and phased out in many countries due to their environmental and health risks.

    However, older equipment and materials that contain PCBs may still be present, especially in older buildings and industrial settings.

    Efforts have been made to remediate contaminated sites and safely dispose of PCB-containing materials to reduce exposure risks.

  • Are PCBs still in use today?

    The United States banned polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in 1979.

    PCB production and use have been heavily restricted or banned in many countries since the 1970s and 1980s due to their environmental and health hazards.

  • Can PCB exposure occur from indoor sources like old buildings or schools?

    Yes, indoor sources like older buildings and schools can contain PCB-containing materials such as old fluorescent lights, caulking and sealants.

    PCBs can be released into indoor air, potentially leading to exposure, although regulations have reduced the prevalence of PCBs in newer buildings.

  • How can I reduce PCB exposure risks?

    To minimize exposure, individuals should avoid consuming PCB-contaminated food, follow safety guidelines if working with PCB-containing materials, and be aware of potential sources of PCB exposure in their surroundings.

    Remediation and proper disposal of PCB-containing materials are also essential to reduce environmental contamination.

Written By:
Tor Hoerman

Tor Hoerman

Owner & Attorney - TorHoerman Law

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