What are PCB’s?
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of organic chemicals which can be odorless or mildly aromatic solids or oily liquids. They were formerly used in the USA as hydraulic fluids, plasticizers, adhesives, fire retardants, way extenders, de-dusting agents, pesticide extenders, inks, lubricants, cutting oils, in heat transfer systems, carbon-less reproducing paper.
Production of PCBs has decreased drastically: from over 86 million lbs. in 1970 to 35 million lbs in 1977. Since EPA banned most uses of PCBs in 1979, current releases are due mainly to the cycling of this persistent contaminant from soil to air to soil again. PCBs are also currently released from landfills, incineration of municipal refuse and sewage sludge, and improper (or illegal) disposal of PCB materials, such as waste transformer fluid, to open areas.
From 1987 to 1993, according to EPA’s Toxic Chemical Release Inventory, PCB releases to land and water totaled over 74,000 lbs. The bulks of these releases occurred in 1990 and were primarily from non-ferrous wire drawing and insulating industries. The largest releases occurred in California.
What do the results mean? Are they regulated?
The MCLG for PCBs has been set at zero because EPA believes this level of protection would not cause any of the potential health problems described below.
Based on this MCLG, EPA has set an enforceable standard called a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). MCLs are set as close to the MCLGs as possible, considering the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies.
The MCL has been set at 0.5 parts per billion (ppb) because EPA believes, given present technology and resources, this is the lowest level to which water systems can reasonably be required to remove this contaminant should it occur in drinking water.
How do you test for PCB’s?
There are many methods available for testing PCB’s in water and, most of these methods will utilize some type of Gas Chromatography. Due to the health risks from this contamination, testing should be performed by an experienced laboratory.
Water Treatment Options
The EPA states the best available technology for removing PCB’s from water is using activated granular carbon.