What are Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)?PCBs are a group of 209 manmade compounds that generally occur as complex mixtures. While historically the largest use of PCBs was in electrical equipment, there are many other sources of PCBs. PCBs are very persistent, lasting for decades in the environment. Like other persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals, PCBs move easily between air, water and land, so they are found throughout Washington. PCBs also accumulate in people and animals, becoming more concentrated in organisms at the top of the food chain like orcas.
One of the major ways people are exposed to PCBs is through our diet, such as eating fish that contain PCBs. PCBs have been shown to have toxic effects to the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine system in humans and other organisms. PCBs also cause cancer in animals, and are considered likely to cause cancer in humans.
PCBs are still found in old products produced before commercial production of PCBs ended, such as in electrical transformers. They can also be found in new products either as a contaminant or intentionally added below regulated levels. There is still inadvertent production of PCBs during manufacturing of chemicals such as dyes and pigments.
PCB Chemical Action Plan
In 2015, the Washington departments of Ecology and Health released a chemical action plan to guide our state's strategy to find and remove PCBs, and reduce exposure to this toxic chemical. Although a great deal of work has already been done to reduce PCBs, this plan identifies important gaps that need to be filled in order to protect people and the environment. Ecology worked with stakeholders to identify these gaps and prioritize measures to reduce the risk posed by this toxic chemical in Washington.
The departments of Ecology and Health will continue their existing
programs, such as cleanup, permitting, stormwater management, and
fish advisories. The following recommendations are for new actions
to reduce PCBs:
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