PCBs at Home and School

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monona Rossol, industrial hygienist and founder and president of Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety, Inc., and Dr. Robert Herrick, senior lecturer on industrial hygiene, Harvard School of Public Health, discuss the health risks of PCBs in schools, homes, and other buildings.


Robert Herrick and Monona Rossol

Comments [9]

Jess from Harlem

In nyc schools terribly, discuss that too

Sep. 22 2011 02:06 PM
George S. from Queens

I just read an article about the presence of bisphenol A in cash register tapes that print with thermo-paper. I know we try to eliminate BPA in drinking bottles and other plastics, but how real is BPA exposure from such paper, a quite surprising source?

Dec. 22 2010 12:17 AM

Could you give us some idea of what is considered an "elevated" level... the EPA guidance quotes 70 nanograms per cubic meter (for small children) as a safe level...... what would that be in percentage terms?

Monona Rossol responds: First, 70 ng/m3 is not a "safe" level. EPA usually sets this these standards a a level that only one cancer in a million children is expected statistically. There is no "safe" level to a carcinogen.

Second, Because 70ng/m3 is a weight (nanograms) in a volume (cubic meter of air) calculating a percentage from just this information can't be completely accurate. To get an accurate percentage, we need weight/weight or volume/volume numbers. We don't know the exact weight of a given volume of PDBs because there are 209 congeners all with different molecular weights. And we don't know the volume of air the various PCBs would occupy.

But we can get a ball park if we start with the following relationships.

1 mg/L is roughly = to 1 ppm

There are 1000 liters in 1 m3

70 ng = 0.07ug = 0.00007 mg

1 ppm = ~0.0001%

So 70ng/m3 = 0.00007mg/m3

0.00007mg/m3 x 1m3/1000L = 0.00000007mg/L(or ppm)

0.00000007ppm x 1ppm/0.0001% = 0.00000000007%

Check my zeros, but that's roughly it. Some things are REALLY TOXIC! Thanks for the fun question.

Dec. 21 2010 01:05 PM
Elizabeth D. Poole

Is there evidence that teachers and students who spent years in the old schools, suffer from PCB related illnesses?

Monona Rossol responds: That's the BIG question. How do you separate out the effects of PCBs just from the school from all the other toxic substances in the school, from the students and teachers homes and hobbies, from general pollution sources, from their food, etc.? Nobody can. The better epidemiology studies are done by quantifying the amounts of PCBs in the blood of a large group of individuals and seeing if more illnesses and cancers are seen in those people with the higher PCB levels. But what if a person with low PCBs has high levels of dioxins in their blood? Or phthalates? etc. Or they have a family history of cancer? Or they or a family member smoked? And on and on.

This is why chemical manufacturers are so confident. They know that no matter what studies are done, they will be able to throw doubt on them by pointing out some of the variables. They did this effectively for 40 years to confuse smokers.

To look at it another way: The more untested toxic chemicals they create and expose us to, the safer they are from lawsuits and damages because the effects of any one of these chemicals cannot be separated out.

Dec. 21 2010 12:37 PM
dan from new york

how dangerous is low pcb exposure compared to say smoking, eating red meat, or just crossing the street? i don't dispute that industrial level exposure to pcb's (and any number of chemicals) can cause cancer in people and mice, but unless we want to live in a world which is built out of twine and spit, i say better living through chemicals.

Monona Rossol responds: I'm glad your happy with the way things are. However, you know that if you quit smoking, you reduce your risk. If you stop eating red meat, you reduce your risk. If you look both ways before crossing the street, you reduce your risk.

How come you don't think we should ask chemical manufacturers to reduce our risk by testing their chemicals so there is enough data to enable us to pick the safest products?

I'm not saying we should do your spit and twine thing. Let's just require industry to provide enough data so we can start making choices based on studies like we do with the red meat and smoking.

Dec. 21 2010 12:36 PM
Brian from Queens

What about wood floor refinishing,
Currently there are three separate contractors sanding wood floors this week alone.

Monona Rossol responds: Hmmmm. Where are these three contractors? And where are you in relation to the dust they create? I'm confused by your question.

However, if I were planning to sand my floors and they were varnished, I'd take a shaving of wood with the finish on it to the lab I use here in town and run it for lead. Many old varnishes also contained lead.

And if the finish was likely to be from the 1970s or before, I'd send off another shaving to one of the labs that do bulk samples for PCBs. I think Triumvirate Environmental (google them) does this. If it contained lead and/or PCBs, I'd want an abatement contractor to do the work.

Dec. 21 2010 12:34 PM
Amy from Manhattan

What if you do have older caulks & other materials at home that might have PCBs or PBBs in them? Is there a safe way to dispose of them?

Monona Rossol responds: Well, until some kind of regulations on PCBs in household waste are instituted, you can legally put the stuff in the trash. And even in a school or public building, at this point in time, there are no regulations requiring them to even test and find out if the caulk contains PCBs. It also can go out with the trash.

Yes, that's wrong. But it's not illegal.

The safest thing to do with them would be to take the stuff to one of the household waste collection centers--if there are any left in the area where you live. The budget cuts are taking a lot of these services away.

Dec. 21 2010 12:34 PM
MJ from irvington, ny

How do I tell if the flourescent light fixtures in my mid 1960's home is safe or need to be replaced?


Monona Rossol responds: If there is a little metal box-like thingie that looks like a transformer in the fixtures and it is from the 60s or 70s, you can be pretty sure it contains PCBs or PBBs. I'd upgrade.

Dec. 21 2010 12:29 PM
Opal from NYC

Are there PCBs in the rope caulking I use to winterize my windows?

Monona Rossol responds: I don't know which kind of rope caulking your have, but most are kind of gummy with caulk impregnated in the fiber. If they are purchased after 1980, there shouldn't be any PCBs in them. But who knows what other plasticizers and fire retardants are there? As long as they are in pretty good condition, I wouldn't be too worried. But when they get kind of dry and old, that's the time to replace them.

Dec. 21 2010 12:19 PM

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