The dangerous effects of industrial chemicals on the environment and our health are becoming more serious. Some of these chemical toxins are hiding in places you may not be aware of. PCB’s are the first of five major groups of environmental toxins that are having a disastrous effect on our health and our global environment. Read on to learn about how we are exposed, how they affect our health, and steps to reduce exposure to this group of toxins.
What are PCB’s?
PCB’s belong to a broad family of man-made organic chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons. PCBs were manufactured in the USA from 1929 until they were banned in 1979. They have yet to be banned worldwide. PCB’s have been used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment because they don’t burn easily and are good insulators. Even if PCB’s are no longer being used, they persist in the environment for many years and accumulate in the body’s fat tissue.
How am I exposed to PCB’s?
- The main source of exposure of PCB’s are meat, dairy products and fish, especially farmed salmon.
- Breathing air near hazardous waste sites, drinking contaminated well water, and children playing in the dirt near hazardous waste sites with old appliances or electrical equipment.
- Using old fluorescent lighting fixtures and electrical devices and appliances, such as television sets and refrigerators that were made before 1980. These items may leak small amounts of PCB’s into the air when they get hot during operation, and could be a source of skin and lung exposure.
- Infants will be exposed to PCB’s from breast milk. Unborn babies are exposed through the transfer of PCB’s into the placenta.
- Cheap sources of fish oil supplements that have not been tested for mercury or PCB’s.
How do they damage health?
PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and the endocrine system (hormones). Infants are particularly sensitive to PCB’s. PCB’s have a half-life in the human body of about 10-15 years because they attach themselves to various tissues, giving them time to cause cancer.
What can I do?
If you have old electrical equipment around, you may be exposing yourself to PCB’s. Safely getting rid of or replacing that equipment with environmentally safer choices will reduce you toxin exposure. Replace old fluorescent light fixtures with environmentally safer light fixtures and use LED bulbs instead of compact fluorescent bulbs.
Regarding salmon, choose wild fresh or canned salmon instead of farmed, and eat an eight-ounce serving of farmed salmon no more than once a month. Trim fat from fish before cooking, and choose broiling, baking, or grilling over frying, as these cooking methods allow the PCB-laden fat to cook off the fish.
If you consume fish oil in any form, make sure it is a quality product that has been tested and is free of mercury and PCB’s.
ATSDR (2014, May). Toxic Substances Portal. Toxicological Profiles. Retrieved from http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/index.asp
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Crinnion, W. (2010). Clean, Green & Lean: Drop the weight in 30 days. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.
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Stockholm Convention, (2008). What are POP’s? Retrieved from http://chm.pops.int/TheConvention/ThePOPs/tabid/673/Default.aspx