Category: Organochlorides

Chemical Name: Molecular Makeup:

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) C12H10-xClx

Sources: “PCB” refers to 209 cogeners, roughly 130 of which were used for a variety of products including lighting fixtures, electrical insulation in all sorts of wires, various oils, adhesives, paints, pesticides, sealants, paper, and transformers. Despite manufacture having ceased in 1977, PCBs continue to enter the environment due to improper disposal of products containing them. PCBs are in the EPA's "Dirty Dozen." [1]

Transport Vectors: PCBs cycle easily between water, soil and air and the cogeners have a half life within the human body ranging from a few years to as long as twenty years.[3] Finally, they are highly lipid soluble and, as a result, biomagnify rapidly up the food chain. Food consumption contributes the most to human PCB exposure; fortunately, the average daily exposure has dropped between 1978 and 1991 from .027 ug/kg to <0.001 kg. [1]

Sample Concentration Levels

Abiotic Media:

Water (ng/L) Soil Air (ng/m3) Sediment

US Tap Average: <0.1
Lake Superior 1978: .63 – 3.3
Lake Superior 1993:.070 - .10 [1]
Rural Rain
1-50 [9]
1980s–1990s: .5-20 [8]
Urban Rain
1970s–1980s: 10 -250 [9]
1980s–1990s: 10 [8]

US PCB disposal facilities:
Low: 100 ug/m2 (74% of facilities)
High: 180,000 ug/m2
NY Hazardous Waste site: 740 mg/kg[6]

Cape Cod, MA homes low: >1
High: 5
Median: < 3 [2]
Baltimore Urban: .38 – 3.36
Baltimore Rural: .02 - .34 [4]
Arctic: .074 ng/m3 [5]

NY Hazardous Waste Site: 41,500 mg/kg[6]
Upper Hudson
1960s: 350 ppm
1991: 34 ppm [10]
Lake Ontario
1982/1983: 1300 – 1900 ng/g
1985/1986: 80-290 ng/g [11]
St. Lawrence River, 1995 max: 5,700,000 ng/g

Biotic Media:

Fish (ug/g wet, mean)
Marine Mammals (ug/g lipid weight)
Birds Food

US North Coasts mean:1.64 [7]
Sierra Nevada: .018 - .430 [1]
Buffalo River Carp
Young: 2.40
Middle age: 4.30
Old: 5.00 [12]
Superfund Site Bullhead: 20.55 [1]

Irish Sea Porpoise: 6.19
Gulf Coast bottlenose dolphins
Adult male: 93
4 [1]

NY Bufflehead Duck: 0.15±0.19
Canada Geese: 0.05±0.01
Canadian Mallard: 0.161 [1]

Soy Baby Food: 10.25 ng/g mean [13]
Fish: .892 ppm
Shellfish: .056 ppm
Eggs: .072 ppm
Milk: .067 ppm [1]


Serum, non-occupationally exposed, non-fish consumers (ppb) Serum, non-occupationally exposed, fish consumers (ppb)

Breastmilk (ng/g lipid)

1996 Great Lakes Mean: 1.2
High: 9.7 Low: .5 [14]
1982 – 1984 Long Beach, CA Work Force Mean: 4
37 Low: <1 [15]
1983 Fairmount, WV
5 High: 23 Low: 1 [16]

1995 Great Lakes Mean: 4.8
High: 58.2 Low: 0.7 [14]
1982 New Bedford, MA Mean: 13.34 High: 87.97 Low: 1.40 [17]
1973 Triana, AL Mean: 22.2
High: 158 Low: 3

1972 Sweden: 1,090
1985 Sweden:
1992 Sweden:
Akwesasne Indian Reservation 1986-89: 602
Reservation 1992: 254
1992 Canada: 238
Massachusetts near superfund site: 1,107 – 2,379 [1]

Health effects:


  1. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2000. Toxicological profile for Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
  2. Rudel, R A, Seryak, L M, and Brody, J G (2008). "PCB-containing wood floor finish is a likely source of elevated PCBs in resident's blood, household air and dust: a case study of exposure". Environmental Health.
  4. Offenberg JH, Baker JE. 1999. Influence of Baltimore's urban atmosphere on organic contaminants over the northern Chesapeake Bay. J Air Waste Manage Assoc 49:959-965.
  5. Harner T, Kylin H, Bidleman TF, et al. 1998. Polychlorinated naphthalenes and coplanar polychlorinated biphenyls in Arctic air. Environ Sci Technol 32:3257-3265.
  6. ATSDR. 1995. Exposure to PCBs from hazardous waste among Mohawk women and infants at Akwesasne. Atlanta, GA.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
  7. Kennish MJ, Ruppel BE. 1996. Polychlorinated biphenyl contamination in selected estuarine and coastal marine finfish and shellfish of New Jersey. Estuaries 19(2A):288-295.
  8. Eisenreich SJ, Baker JE, Franz T, et al. 1992. Atmospheric deposition of hydrophobic organic contaminants to the Laurentian Great Lakes. In: Schnoor JL, ed. Fate of pesticides and chemicals in the environment. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 51-78.
  9. Eisenreich SJ, Looney BB, Thornton JD. 1981. Airborne organic contaminants in the Great Lakes ecosystem. Environ Sci Technol 15:30-38.
  10. Bopp RF, Chillrud SN, Shuster EL, et al. 1998. Trends in chlorinated hydrocarbon levels in Hudson River Basin sediments. Environ Health Perspect Suppl 106(4):1075-1081.
  11. Oliver BG, Charlton MN, Durham RW. 1989. Distribution, redistribution, and geochronology of polychlorinated biphenyl congeners and other chlorinated hydrocarbons in Lake Ontario sediments. Environ Sci Technol 23:200-208.
  12. Loganathan BG, Kannan K, Watanabe I, et al. 1995. Isomer-specific determination and toxic evaluation of polychlorinated biphenyls, polychlorinated/brominated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans, polybrominated biphenyl ethers, and extractable organic halogen in carp from the Buffalo River, New York. Environ Sci Technol 29(7):1832-1838.
  13. Ramos L, Torre M, Laborda F, et al. 1998. Determination of polychlorinated biphenyls in soybean infant formulas by gas chromatography. J Chromatogr 823:365-372.
  14. Anderson HA, Falk C, Hanrahan L, et al. 1998. Profiles of Great Lakes critical pollutants: A sentinel analysis of human blood and urine. Environ Health Perspect 106(5):279-289.
  15. Sahl JD, Crocker TT, Gordon RJ, et al. 1985a. Polychlorinated biphenyl concentrations in the blood plasma of a selected sample of non-occupationally exposed southern California working adults. Sci Total Environ 46:9-18.
  16. Welty ER. 1983. Personal communication, August 8, 1983. (As cited in Kreiss 1985).
  17. Condon SK. 1983. Personal communications, August 25 and 28, 1983. Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public Health.