For April, Ask Nancy shares updated tips on reducing exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in schools


What are PCBs?


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are chemicals that were manufactured in the United States from 1929 until they were banned in 1979. More than 1.5 billion pounds of PCBs were manufactured in the United States prior to 1977. PCBs have many properties that are useful in manufacturing. They were commonly used in building materials. These materials were widely used in construction projects in the 1950s–1970s, a period when many school buildings were built in the U.S. to accommodate Baby Boom children.


Why were PCBs banned?

Answer from the Western States Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit website:

Even though they were banned more than 35 years ago, PCBs are still of concern because:

  • they have a number of health effects.
  • they can be stored in our bodies for a long time.
  • they break down very slowly in the environment.

We are still learning about all the ways that PCBs may affect our health. Some of the health effects that may be related to PCB exposure include:

  • neurodevelopment problems in children such as lowered IQ,
  • ADHD
  • cancer problems in the immune and endocrine systems

Young children are at higher risk for exposure and health problems from PCBs compared with adults.

You can get complete details by downloading the PCBs In Schools Fact Sheet


What can we do about PCBs in schools?


The most effective thing you can do is safely remove the materials that contain PCBs. Adopting good building management practices will also reduce the risk.

  • Remove old fluorescent light fixtures that contain PCBs.
  • If it is possible to remove other building materials, this will further reduce PCBs.
  • Prior to renovations, review the EPA fact sheet Practical Actions for Reducing Exposure to PCBs in Schools and Other Buildings.
  • Increase building ventilation.
  • Until you can renovate, use best management practices to lower PCBs on surfaces and in dust.