Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), are part of a group of chemicals called chlorinated hydrocarbons. These chemicals can be found in some commercial and industrial products such as plastic, paint, caulking, and rubber products, and in electrical equipment such as fluorescent light bulbs. PCBs can affect the endocrine system, your body’s way of controlling itself. For example, some studies show that PCBs can lower thyroid hormone levels in animals and humans. However, other studies do not show this relation. Thyroid hormone levels are important for your body to develop normally. The U.S. banned manufacturers from using PCBs in 1979, and levels of PCBs in blood across the general population have also gone down since the ban. PCBs are still a health concern today because they do not easily break down in the environment like many other chemicals do. Instead, PCBs can “build up” in the soil, air, water, and plants. Animals that come in contact with PCBs in the environment can also “build up” PCBs in their bodies. Over time, larger animals eat smaller animals that contain PCBs. As a result, some animal, plant, and fish products that may contain PCBs can make their way into grocery stores across the country. We can’t completely avoid PCB exposure because small amounts may be found in some of the foods we eat and the air we breathe. By making smart choices you can limit the amount of the chemical you come into contact with.
Here are some tips:
- Limit the amount of sport fish that you eat, like striped bass, Bluefin tuna, and walleye.
- Think about limiting the amount of high-fat animal products you eat, like fatty cuts of steaks, full-fat milk, full-fat cheese, and eggs.
- Replace old appliances made before 1979.
- Consider limiting exposure to soils that may be contaminated with PCBs from historic use or chemical spills. You can look here to see if you live near an old industrial area.
- Limit your exposure to old caulk, old light fluorescent light bulbs, and other industrial materials made before 1979 that may contain PCBs from historic use or chemical spills.
- Check with your child’s school district on what they know about the presence of PCBs and other contaminants at school.