What is PCB poisoning

Specialist portal for indoor air in North Rhine-Westphalia


PCBs used to be used in grout. Today they are banned for use in construction.

The term polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) is a name for synthetic substance mixtures that have been used since the 1950s, especially in electrical engineering components and for joint fillers and for paints. They have been widely used as a dielectric, flame retardant, and plasticizer. PCB mixtures can also be contaminated with dioxins and furans. Some of the PCBs themselves have a dioxin-like effect. The external nature of the PCB ranges from almost colorless oily liquids to light yellow soft resins.

The main period of use for construction products containing PCBs is in the 1960s and 1970s. The use and marketing of PCBs has been prohibited in Germany since 1989. In buildings, PCBs are still mainly found in grout and wall coatings. Under certain conditions, PCBs can be released from it.

PCB uptake is possible through direct skin contact as well as with food and the air. The PCB exposure of the general population in Germany occurs primarily through animal foods, such as B. Meat, eggs and milk. In comparison, the contribution to PCB exposure through inhalation is usually significantly lower.

PCBs can be chronically damaging to health. According to German law on hazardous substances, PCB is classified as toxic to reproduction (i.e. it can impair fertility and damage unborn life) and possibly carcinogenic. Further effects can be seen in the form of neurotoxicity, immune toxicity and liver toxicity as well as thyroid and skin effects.

Depending on the air pollution from PCBs, remediation may be necessary. Possibly still loaded grout could have been used. Wall paints, wall cladding or floor coverings in the rooms could, for example, also be polluted secondarily via the room air. The "Guideline for the assessment and remediation of building materials and components in buildings with PCB contamination" (PCB Guideline NRW) provides information on how to carry out remediation work. The renovation of PCB-contaminated interiors should be left to specialist companies. In order to determine the PCB load, only the 6 “indicator PCBs” are usually measured in the room air (PCB-28, 52, 101, 138, 153 and 180) due to the high effort involved. Since 2007, the measurement of PCB-118 has also been recommended, which serves as a reference substance for PCB compounds with a dioxin-like effect.

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