About Polychlorinated Biphenyls - What are PCBS In Water?
Water is one of the most precious resources on our planet, and we rely on it for our survival. However, our water sources are under threat from a variety of pollutants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
These toxic chemicals were widely used in industrial and commercial applications for many years, and their impact is still being felt today. PCB exposure can have serious consequences for human health, including an increased risk of cancer and other illnesses.
In this blog post, we will explore the dangers of PCB contamination in water, how it affects the food chain, the impact on workers exposed to PCBs, and the efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate these probable human carcinogens. So, let’s dive in and learn more about this persistent pollutant and its impact on our water sources and human health.
What is Polychlorinated Biphenyls – PCBS?
You’re probably wondering, what are PCBs in water?
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of odorless or mildly aromatic organic compounds that can exist in either solid or liquid form. These persistent chemicals have been banned in the United States since 1970 due to their toxicity and harmful effects on human health and the environment.
Despite this ban, PCBs continue to be a significant environmental concern due to their widespread use in the past and the improper disposal of PCB waste. PCBs can enter the food chain through contaminated water and soil, leading to PCB-contaminated food and posing a threat to human health.
Workers exposed to PCBs in various industries are also at risk of adverse health effects. PCBs have been used in various industrial applications, such as hydraulic fluids, reactive fire retardants, stabilizing additives, and inks.
They are also found in carbonless reproducing paper, way extenders, plasticizers in paints and cements, pesticide extenders, and lubricants and cutting oils.
How Does Polychlorinated Biphenyls Get into Your Drinking Water?
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are persistent organic pollutants that can enter our water sources in various ways, ultimately making their way into our drinking water. PCBs can be found in industrial and consumer products, and they can also be formed as byproducts of various processes, such as combustion and chlorine treatment.
One of the primary ways PCBs enter the food chain and water sources is through the discharge of PCB wastes from industrial processes. Municipal and industrial incinerators that burn PCB-contaminated waste materials can release individual chlorinated biphenyl components into the air, which can eventually settle into nearby bodies of water.
In addition to industrial sources, PCBs can also enter water sources through runoff from contaminated soils, atmospheric deposition, and leaching from landfills. Once in the water, PCBs can become a part of the food chain, accumulating in aquatic plants and animals, and eventually making their way into the tissues of fish and other seafood that humans consume.
The ability of PCBs to accumulate in living organisms and biomagnify up the food chain is a significant concern for human health. Consuming contaminated fish and seafood is one of the most common ways that humans are exposed to PCBs.
While cooking fish can reduce the levels of PCBs, it is still recommended that individuals limit their consumption of certain types of fish that are known to be high in PCBs, such as swordfish and king mackerel.
In addition to contaminated fish and seafood, PCBs can also enter our drinking water supply through sources such as old transformers and capacitors that were used to cool electrical equipment. These products were often filled with PCBs, and when they were disposed of improperly, the PCBs could leak into the surrounding soil and water.
What are the Health Risks Associated with Polychlorinated Biphenyls And PCB Exposure?
Drinking water with polychlorinated biphenyls above the enforceable level set by the EPA may lead to a variety of health issues. Skin conditions such as rashes and chloracne, reproductive problems, nervous system difficulties, issues with thymus gland, liver damage, motor control problems, and immune deficiencies are some of the common health problems individuals exposed to the contaminant may experience.
Prolonged exposure to the polychlorinated biphenyl-contaminated water may also lead to an increased risk of getting cancer. PCBs play a role in the development of certain cancers according to the International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC).
How Common is Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Water?
The presence of PCBs in water sources is a widespread problem worldwide. In the United States, for instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified PCBs as a priority pollutant in water under the Clean Water Act.
The agency has set strict guidelines to regulate PCBs in drinking water. However, some water sources have been found to contain PCB levels that exceed this limit.
PCBs are also a concern in other parts of the world. In Europe, for example, PCBs were widely used until their ban in the 1980s. However, they continue to be present in the environment, including water sources. A study conducted in the Rhine River in Europe found high levels of PCBs in fish, indicating contamination of the river.
In conclusion, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a significant concern in water sources worldwide due to their persistence and toxicity. The presence of multiple chlorine atoms in PCBs makes them persistent organic pollutants that can remain in the environment for decades.
While the use of PCBs has been banned in many countries, they continue to be a threat to human health and the environment, especially in water. To mitigate the risks associated with PCBs, it is essential to implement measures to prevent their release into the environment and to monitor water sources regularly for their presence.
What is the EPA’s Standards for Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Drinking Water?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a federal agency responsible for protecting human health and the environment. One of the EPA’s responsibilities is to set standards for contaminants in drinking water, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
The EPA has established maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for PCBs in drinking water to protect public health. The MCL is the maximum permissible level of a contaminant in water delivered to any user of a public water system. The EPA’s MCL for PCBs in drinking water is 0.0005 milligrams per liter (mg/L) or 500 parts per trillion (ppt).
The EPA’s MCL for PCBs in drinking water is based on the potential health effects associated with exposure to these chemicals. PCBs are known to cause cancer in animals, and there is evidence to suggest that they may cause cancer in humans as well. Additionally, exposure to PCBs has been linked to reproductive and developmental problems, immune system disorders, and other health issues.
Public water systems are required to test their water for PCBs and comply with the EPA’s MCL. If a public water system exceeds the MCL, the system must take corrective action to reduce the level of PCBs in the water. This may involve installing treatment systems or finding alternative sources of water.
In addition to the MCL, the EPA has also established a non-enforceable health advisory level (HAL) for PCBs in drinking water. The HAL is 0.02 mg/L or 20 ppt. The HAL is intended to provide guidance to water systems and consumers on the potential health risks associated with exposure to PCBs in drinking water.
In conclusion, the EPA’s standards for PCBs in drinking water are designed to protect public health from the potential health effects associated with exposure to these toxic chemicals. Public water systems are required to test their water for PCBs and comply with the EPA’s MCL. The EPA’s non-enforceable HAL provides additional guidance on the potential health risks associated with exposure to PCBs in drinking water.
What is the Best Reduction Media for Removing Polychlorinated Biphenyls from Drinking Water?
The best water treatment method for removing polychlorinated biphenyls from drinking water to below 0.0005 mg/L or 500 ppb is with granular activated carbon (GAC). The media can be found in reliable water filter systems like AquaOx’s whole house water filter system.
If you’re looking for an efficient way to eliminate contaminants like polychlorinated biphenyls from your tap water, get a good water filter system installed at home today!
From The Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
PDF Version, 35 KB
Polychlorinated biphenyls are mixtures of up to 209 individual chlorinated compounds (known as congeners). There are no known natural sources of PCBs. PCBs are either oily liquids or solids that are colorless to light yellow.
Some PCBs can exist as a vapor in air. PCBs have no known smell or taste. Many commercial PCB mixtures are known in the U.S. by the trade name Aroclor.
PCBs have been used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment because they don’t burn easily and are good insulators. The manufacture of PCBs was stopped in the U.S. in 1977 because of evidence they build up in the environment and can cause harmful health effects.
Products made before 1977 that may contain PCBs include old fluorescent lighting fixtures and electrical devices containing PCB capacitors, and old microscope and hydraulic oils.