PCBs – An Emerging Environmental Issue

Posted: February 20, 2012

PCBs were banned in 1978 because of concerns about their potential for adverse effects on human health and the environment. Exposure to PCBs can affect the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system. In humans, PCBs are potentially cancer-causing.

In recent years, the EPA has learned that caulk containing PCBs was used in many buildings from the 1950’s through the 1970’s until they were banned in the US in 1978. In late 2009, EPA published new guidance on handling PCBs in building caulking materials. Exposure to PCBs in caulk occurs when the caulking material ages and begins to disintegrate, or when building renovations occur that disturb the PCB-containing caulk. Exposures to construction workers, building occupants and the general population can occur if PCB-containing caulk is not properly identified and carefully removed.

Following are the recommended steps for all buildings that were constructed prior to 1978, where building caulk will be disturbed as part of a renovation of demolition effort:

  • If PCBs are identified in the caulk, design a remediation strategy that prevents exposure.
  • Assure that workers that disturb or handle the PCB-containing caulkare adequately protected.
  • Assure that engineering controls are established to prevent exposureto building occupants or the environment.
  • Properly dispose of all waste materials in accordance with federal,
    state and local laws pertaining to PCBs.
  • Test the interior spaces of the building to assure that no PCB contamination remains.

KEM can assist in the testing and project design associated with PCB’s in caulk. If you are performing a renovation on a building built between 1950 and 1978, ask KEM to test the building caulk prior to disturbing the material. Safely handling PCBs in caulk will save everyone from exposure, will keep the project on schedule and will prevent liability concerns in the future.