Environmental health news: PCBs in schools

Robert Herrick, senior lecturer on industrial hygiene in HSPH’s Department of Environmental Health, discussed the health risks of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in schools, homes, and other buildings in a Dec. 21, 2010, interview on the Leonard Lopate Show on public radio station WNYC in New York.

A recent study found elevated levels of PCBs in the air of several New York City schools where PCBs were found in window caulking and old fluorescent light fixtures. Herrick said the school findings are not surprising since 1.4 billion pounds of PCBs have been produced worldwide since the 1930s, when PCBs were first used in rubber and to make coatings flexible. PCBs, which include 209 chemicals, were outlawed by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1978 after being linked to cancer and other ailments.

“It turns out the period of peak use was the 1950s through the late 1970s, which unfortunately corresponds to the period of peak school construction in the U.S.,” Herrick said. “Some of this building material is 40 or 50 years old and these coatings and caulking materials are breaking down and releasing PCBs into the environment,” he said.

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Learn more

Notorious Pollutant PCBs Linked to Diminished Childhood Vaccination Response (HSPH Press Release)

“Brain Pollution” (Harvard Public Health Review)

Department of Environmental Health