Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are the name for a variety of man-made chemicals that are composed of carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine atoms. The number of chlorine atoms in these chemicals and their location in a PCB molecule determines the physical and chemical properties of the compound. PCBs are part of a larger group of chemicals called chlorinated hydrocarbons.
While the manufacturing of PCBs has been banned in the United States for decades, these chemicals can still be found in some older products and buildings. However, the most common form of exposure to PCBs today is through the environmental cycling of previously released PCBs. Exposure to PCBs has resulted in numerous personal injury lawsuits over the years.
Production and Banning of PCBs
Domestic production of PCBs began in 1929 and continued until the manufacture and use of these chemicals were banned in the late 1970s. The ban on PCBs came after it became clear that these chemicals caused a variety of adverse health conditions.
Unfortunately, because of the variety of ways these chemicals were viewed as healthy before their toxic quality was revealed, the 50-year production of PCBs led to significant exposure for many people and animals. The fact that these chemicals do not break down easily means that these substances continue to cycle through the air, water, and soil.
What Products Contain PCBs?
Because of their wide range of potential uses, PCBs were found in many products in the middle part of the 20th century. PCBs are non-flammable, chemically stable, and have a high boiling point and electrical insulating properties, which made them very useful for industrial and commercial purposes.
While no longer produced, PCBs can still be found in many older products, including:
- Voltage regulators
- Electrical switches
- Motor oil
- Various electrical devices
- Fluorescent light ballasts
- Cable insulation
- Thermal insulation material (fiberglass, felt, foam, and cork)
- Oil-based paint
- Carbonless copy paper
- Floor finish
Because these chemicals are hard to break down, they can travel long distances and have been discovered in areas far from where they were released into the environment.
Health Risks Posed by PCBs
PCBs have been linked to a wide range of health concerns, including:
- Immune effects
- Reproductive effects
- Neurological effects
- Endocrine effects
Because these chemicals have been so widely used and dispersed across the planet, nearly everyone has had some level of exposure to PCBs. However, whether this exposure will lead to harmful effects depends on several factors, including:
- The quantity of PCBs you have been exposed to
- The length of time you were exposed to PCBs
- Your body’s sensitivity to PCBs
- Whether or not the PCBs were combined with other toxic chemicals
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Workers Who Handled these Substances Have a High Chance of Health Complications
The groups with the highest rate of health conditions caused by PCBs are those who worked manufacturing these chemicals and those who worked in industries where products containing these chemicals were frequently used, such as the construction industry.
Since many products containing PCBs were never removed from old structures, the risk of PCB exposure continues to be high for workers who are remodeling or demolishing older buildings. It is essential to be aware of the potential exposure to these chemicals and take steps to protect yourself.
Legal Actions Involving PCBs
Because PCBs have no known taste or smell, exposure to these chemicals can often go unnoticed until it is too late. For those who were exposed to these chemicals at detrimental levels, recovering compensation for these damages can be critical.
Recently Monsanto has faced a string of lawsuits in Washington State over exposure in a school. Of five lawsuits that have concluded so far, Monsanto lost four, while a fifth ended in a mistrial. If you or a loved one has suffered health problems related to exposure to PCBs, talk to an experienced attorney at Berry Law to learn more about your legal options.