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According to new, yet unpublished research, traces of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are leaching out of clothing and printed materials, such as magazines, from around the world. The worst part is that PCB has been banned in the United States for 35 years – which just shows how abundant chemicals are and how long their lifespan can be. According to an Environmental Health News report, “PCB-11 was detected in nearly all samples of paper products sold in 26 countries and clothing sold in the United States.” This new finding shows that chemicals tied to yellow dyes, inks and paints, even if banned for years manage to find their way into people’s blood, the air and waterways. Though no longer commercially produced in the United States, PCB is an unintentional byproduct of pigment manufacturing, so it may show up in newer products even though it’s been banned. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that PCBs are also present in products and materials produced before the 1979 PCB ban. The EPA points out that older versions of the following products may contain persistent PCBs:

  • Transformers and capacitors
  • Other electrical equipment including voltage regulators, switches, reclosers, bushings, and electromagnets
  • Oil used in motors and hydraulic systems
  • Old electrical devices or appliances containing PCB capacitors
  • Fluorescent light ballasts
  • Cable insulation
  • Thermal insulation material including fiberglass, felt, foam, and cork
  • Adhesives and tapes
  • Oil-based paint
  • Caulking
  • Plastics
  • Carbonless copy paper
  • Floor finish

banned chemicals, PCB, chemicals in paper, chemicals in clothing, chemical reform, PCB dangers
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The newer study on PCBs looked at 28 samples of non-U.S., ink-treated paper products, including advertisements, maps, postcards, napkins and brochures. All samples contained PCB-11 in the parts-per-billion range and in the USA, 15 of the 18 paper products had it.

Lisa Rodenburg, Rutgers University, told Environmental Health News, “It’s out there in levels that are worrisome. Even at the parts per billion levels, if you find it in almost everything you test, that means people are in almost constant contact.”

The researchers also tested clothing, finding 16 pieces of U.S. clothing that did indeed contain PCB-11, including children’s items bought at WalMart stores but manufactured overseas. The EPA noted that PCBs have been shown to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system. Some research also shows that PCB-11 can disrupt cell signaling but not much research has been compiled on this chemical, which is worrisome in itself. Especially when you consider that people seem to be widely exposed. During one study researchers found that 60% of 85 women from East Chicago, Ind., and Columbus Junction, Iowa, had traces of PCB-11 in their blood. Yikes. There’s not a whole lot you can do to avoid PCB issues right now, but you can continue to support world-wide chemical reform, chemical testing and further research.

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