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Urban Environmental Program in New England

What are PCB's?

PCBs belong to a broad family of man-made organic chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons. PCBs were domestically manufactured from 1929 until their manufacture was banned in 1979. They have a range of toxicity and vary in consistency from thin, light-colored liquids to yellow or black waxy solids. Due to their non-flammability, chemical stability, high boiling point, and electrical insulating properties, PCBs were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications including electrical, heat transfer, and hydraulic equipment; as plasticizers in paints, plastics, and rubber products; in pigments, dyes, and carbonless copy paper; and many other industrial applications.

Although no longer commercially produced in the United States, PCBs may be present in products and materials produced before the 1979 PCB ban. Products that may contain PCBs include: 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, and floor finish.

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