Originally published August 18 2014
Toxic, cancer-causing PCBs still show up in everyday products despite decades-old ban
by Julie Wilson
(NaturalNews) Banning the use of toxic chemicals is great and all, but the problem lies with their persistence in the environment, which for many of us can last a lifetime.
While legislatively enforced bans are progressive, sometimes they're a little too late. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a great example. Despite their ban 35 years ago, the industrial chemicals are still very much present in today's environment because of their inability to be broken down by natural earthly processes.
The Washington Department of Ecology released a report earlier this month entitled "Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in General Consumer Products," which detailed the presence of inadvertent PCB contamination in consumer products.
The Ecology Dept. tested 68 different products for PCBs and discovered the chemical's presence at low levels in 49 different products, leading experts to suggest that the toxins are entering the market as a byproduct of manufacturing dyes and pigments.
Some of the products containing PCBs included newspapers, glossy magazines, cereal boxes, yellow plastic bags, paint and spray paint. The highest levels of PCBs were reportedly found in the packaging of Ritz cheese and other cracker snack packaging, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
The compound was also detected in the packaging of lime Jell-O, mac and cheese, Fruit by the Foot and taco shells, according to Erika Holmes, a spokeswoman for the department.
The following four specific PCBs were of interest, PCB-11, 206, 208 and 209, all of which are believed to be the result of inadvertent PCB creation during the production of pigments and dyes.
PCB-11 was found in 66 percent of product samples
The samples collected by scientists "were separated into product categories including packaging, paper products, paints and paint colorant, caulks and a miscellaneous category consisting of two printer inks and two food samples," according to the report.
PCB-11 was detected in all product categories in the range of 1 to 45 parts per billion (ppb). Nearly all paint and colorant samples tested positive for one or more PCBs.
"Although PCBs were banned for most uses in 1979, they are often inadvertently produced at lower -- but still problematic -- levels during manufacturing processes," said Alexa Stone, the lead chemist on the project.
"Concentrations in each product are low. However, the large number of products that contain PCBs add up to significant releases to the environment."
PCBs entering the environment as a byproduct is currently unregulated
While the concentrations of PCBs discovered in the study are low, experts warn that the accumulation of these chemicals in both the human body and the environment can become problematic.
The industrial chemicals are long-lasting in the Earth and bioaccumulate as they move up the food web, even affecting animals like bears and orcas. Experts say almost every body of water in Washington is contaminated by PCBs.
"A lot of the PCBs we were dealing with 40, 50 years ago are the same PCBs we're dealing with today because they stick around for a very long time," added Stone.
"Part of the reason we were concerned about this issue is it's sort of a new source. New PCBs are unexpectedly being added to the existing PCBs, so rather than resolving our problems, we're continually making new PCBs and adding them to the environment on almost a daily basis."
Interest in the topic was sparked after a newspaper-recycling plant discovered high levels of PCBs in their wastewater, which Stone suggests likely came from the ink used to print the paper.
Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee acknowledged that the state's standards for dumping hazardous waste into waterways are out of date and fail to account for a new generation of toxic chemicals. With help from the Dept. of Ecology, the governor proposed a draft plan in July that's intended to help curb PCB contamination.
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