PCBs in Caulk Pose Significant – and Expensive – Problem

The threat from <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/PCBs_health_concerns">PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in light ballasts found in schools built prior to 1979 been making news the past several months, with New York City just announcing a 10-year plan to remove PCB-tainted ballasts from schools there. But according to a report from the American Recyler, PCBs in caulk – found around windows and doors in many buildings – could be another significant threat.

According to the article, costs to clean up PCB-laden caulk and other building materials could be astronomical. As we’ve reported previously, the price tag for JUST New York City’s PCB light ballast remediation program is set at more than $700 million, though early estimates had put it at $1 billion.

This isn’t a new problem. According to the American Recycler, alarms were first raised about PCB-tainted caulk in primary schools in 2006. But since the mid-1990s the New York State dormitory authority that oversees the state university system there has been looking at caulk.

Remediating the PCB caulk problem will be expensive, especially because of disposal issues. According to the American Recyler, federal law does not allow construction debris to be sent to a landfill if it exceeds 50 ppm of PCBs. Only testing can determine if removed caulk exceeds that standard, and if it does, an “asbestos protocol” is required to remove it.

According to the American Recycler, PCBs in caulking were most heavily used in northern states due to cold weather. Other places PCB-tainted caulk could be found in addition to windows and doors include masonry expansion joints, stairways, and roof soffits.

Most people have low levels of PCBs in their bodies, mostly from exposure through foods like fish and dairy products but also from air, indoor dust and outside soils. Despite being banned in 1979, PCBs are resistant to environmental degradation, so they can persist in the environment for decades.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), human health studies indicate that PCB exposure can disrupt reproductive function, and in utero exposure can lead to neurobehavioral and developmental deficits in newborns and continue through school-aged children. Other systemic effects, including liver disease and diabetes, and effects on the thyroid and immune systems are associated with elevated serum levels of PCBs. Increased cancer risks, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, are also associated with PCB exposures, the CDC says.

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