Older Buildings May Pose Sizable Risk of PCB Exposure

September 30, 2009

EPA is warning about possible risks from PCBs in the caulking at some schools and older buildings. Are there some in your community?

Researchers continue to evaluate the numerous adverse health effects of PCBs, even though the toxic material that was used extensively in construction materials and electrical products has been banned from most uses for more than 30 years. Long-lasting PCBs continue to show up in people, puzzling some observers.

But the material remains widespread in the environment, in locations to which many people are exposed.

In one of the latest developments confirming this, EPA announced Sept. 25, 2009, that high levels of PCBs can readily occur in the caulking material used in buildings built or renovated from 1950 to 1978, including schools, and that people continue to be exposed to the PCBs in the caulk. Dozens or thousands of such buildings likely exist in the area of interest to your audience. The suspect caulking material can occur around doors and windows, and in the joints between masonry products such as brick or concrete block.

On its Web site, EPA has provided considerable information about the caulk and the hazards it can pose -- as well as ways to reduce risk. In addition, there are multiple EPA people in each region with whom you can talk. They may be able to help you identify suspect buildings, and possibly confirmed cases of PCB contamination that you can cover as representative examples of the threat posed, and how it can be mitigated. EPA says it continues to assess the exact magnitude of the problem, and the best ways to resolve it.

Many local building departments, which typically issue permits for new constructions and sizable renovations, may also be able to help you identify possible buildings of concern, though their records may be spotty for the time period of concern.