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Investigation: Yellow dye in clothing, maps and napkins contain cancer-causing PCBs

Polychlorinated biphenyls

(NaturalNews) They're called polychlorinated biphenyls, and the Environmental Protection Agency banned them about 35 years ago.

PCBs, as they are more commonly referred to, "belong to a broad family of man-made organic chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons," the EPA says on its website. They were domestically produced from about 1929 until they were eventually banned in 1979.

Over the years, scientists found that PCBs exhibited a range of properties; they varied in consistency from thin, light-colored liquids to yellow or black waxy solids.

Because they weren't flammable, were chemically stable, had a high boiling point and displayed electrical insulation properties, PCBs were used commercially in hundreds of ways: electrical and heat transfer, in hydraulic equipment, in paints as plasticizers, in plastics and rubber products, in carbonless copy paper and, as the title of this investigation suggests, as pigmentation in dyes.

In short, PCBs were everywhere. In fact, they still are.

Once in the environment, PCBs have staying power

One of the problems with PCBs is their longevity. They are capable of remaining in the environment and in ecosystems for decades. That's because they do not break down readily. So they cycle between the water, air and soil.

They can also travel long distances. They have been found, for instance, in snow and seawater far away from where they were initially released into the environment.

"PCBs can accumulate in the leaves and above-ground parts of plants and food crops. They are also taken up into the bodies of small organisms and fish. As a result, people who ingest fish may be exposed to PCBs that have bioaccumulated in the fish they are ingesting," the EPA says.

What makes them hazardous -- and why they were eventually banned -- is their link to health problems: cancer, as well as ill effects on the immune, reproductive, endocrine and nervous systems.

Banned, yes, but they are still being produced

Fast-forward three-and-a-half decades. Today, though PCBs were officially banned in the U.S., they are still showing up in manufactured products: paper products, paint and even kids' clothing.

In fact, PCB-11 -- found largely in yellow dye from products manufactured mostly in Asia -- has been detected in just about every sample of paper products sold in 26 countries, as well as clothing in the U.S.

This finding led scientists to understand how, after all these years, the chemical was being discovered in people's blood, in the air and in waterways.

What's more, because it is an unintentional byproduct of pigment manufacture, PCB-11 found in consumer products is exempt from U.S. laws that regulate such compounds.

"It's out there in levels that are worrisome," Lisa Rodenburg, an associate professor of environmental chemistry at Rutgers University and senior author of a recent study identifying PCB-11 in consumer products, told Environmental Health News.

"Even at the parts per billion levels, if you find it in almost everything you test, that means people are in almost constant contact," she said.

Getting around the few regulations that exist

While the health effects of PCB-11 have not yet been studied, it is unlike the older, banned PCBs, because it does not appear to accumulate in people or animals. Still, it is a PCB, which leaves experts concerned.

"Chemical regulations barely exist," Barry A. Cik, a noted environmental engineer and expert who has advised Congress and the White House, told Natural News. "There are 250 pounds of chemicals produced every year for every man, woman, and child in this country. Virtually all of it is pretty much unregulated."

And companies use this dearth of regulation to their advantage, as Cik notes:

"Let's say that you're manufacturing vinyl and you use arsenic in the process. You begin the run with a hundred pounds of arsenic. At the end of the run, you're left with five pounds of mucky yucky arsenic, which can no longer be used. That five pounds has to go, by law, to a hazardous waste landfill. But the other 95 pounds that went into the vinyl can go on a baby mattress. Totally legal."

In Rodenburg's testing, PCB-11 was found in all 28 tested samples of non-U.S. paper products treated with ink. They included maps, napkins, brochures, postcards and advertisements. The compound was concentrated in the parts-per-billion range.

In the U.S., 15 of 18 paper products had PCB-11.

Also, all 16 samples of U.S. clothing contained PCB-11, and most of those were children's wear which were purchased at Wal-Mart stores but made overseas. In one child's pajama top, on the front (which had yellow printing), there was 20 times more PCB-11 than on the back, which was red.

"PCB 11 is ubiquitously present as a by-product in commercial pigment applications, particularly in printed materials," said the authors from Rutgers University and Boston College, in a draft of the study. It is expected to be published later this year after already having been peer-reviewed.

"Everyone has ignored the lower chlorinated congeners, primarily because they are not persistent and are relatively easily metabolized in the human body," Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany-SUNY, told Environmental Health News. Nevertheless, it's a "very real and important issue."

PCB-11 turning up in more and more places

In 2013, University of Iowa researchers said that PCB-11 had been found to disrupt cell signaling after having been discovered in blood samples. Also, Carpenter and a team of researchers found that PCB-9, which is similar to PCB-11, was more toxic than other PCB compounds.

"If they are in the air and one breathes them in every day, there will be continuous exposure to what I suspect are very toxic substances," said Carpenter.

Some other recent disturbing findings:

-- The compound was present in nearly every air sample near 40 Chicago-area elementary schools in 2007.

-- Paints may be a significant source of air emissions. Researchers have found more than 50 PCB compounds in 33 paint samples that were purchased at U.S. stores.

-- PCB-11 is mostly found in yellow pigments, called diarylides, and much of this manufacturing occurs in Asia.

-- The compound is now regularly found in U.S. waterways. It has been discovered in the San Francisco Bay, the Great Lakes region (several locations), the Rio Grande and the Houston Ship Channel. Some of these findings led researchers to speculate that washing clothes which contain the yellow pigment enables the compound to slip into bodies of water.

Cik, the environmental engineer, says we are fooling ourselves if we think that all of this exposure won't ultimately be harmful.

"There are about 80,000 chemicals in the marketplace. Not even 1 percent of them have really been tested for toxicity," he told Natural News. "The chemical industry says that it's not a problem because 'the dose makes the poison.' Technically correct, but the problem is that no one knows what doses of what chemicals do what kind of harm to who. And there is no way to assess cumulative and synergistic effects."

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