Current Best Practices for PCBs in Caulk Fact Sheet - Interim Measures for Assessing Risk and Taking Action to Reduce Exposures
Last Updated: December 2012
PCBs in caulk
EPA has learned that caulk containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) was used in many buildings, including schools, during building construction, renovation, or repair from the 1950s through the late 1970s.
This fact sheet identifies for school system officials:
- key steps necessary to conduct a preliminary assessment of PCBs in the air in buildings,
- interim actions that may be taken to prevent or reduce potential exposures to building occupants until the caulk is removed, and
- who to contact at EPA for advice on addressing PCBs in caulk.
PCBs were not added to caulk after 1979. Therefore in general, schools built after 1979 do not contain PCBs in caulk. To date it has been found in buildings in the Northeast and Upper Midwest and in joints in concrete water storage basins in the western United States. Activities to address PCBs in caulk are underway in these areas. EPA is encouraging greater awareness of this issue so people can take steps to minimize potential exposure.
Exposure to PCBs can cause a variety of adverse health effects in animals and humans. PCBs have been shown to cause cancer in animals, as well as a number of serious non-cancer health effects, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other health effects. In humans, PCBs are potentially cancer-causing and can cause other non-cancer effects as well. More information on the health effects of PCBs.
Please note that these are general guidelines. Different actions may be appropriate for different sites based on the PCB concentrations in air, and the condition and location of the caulk.
Test for PCBs that may be present in buildings built between 1950 and 1979
If school administrators and building owners of buildings built between 1950 and 1979 are concerned about exposure to PCBs from caulk, they should consider testing for PCBs in the air. If PCBs are found in the air, EPA will assist in developing a plan to reduce exposure and manage the caulk. Your EPA regional PCB coordinator can direct you to a PCB testing lab.
As part of EPA's overall effort to provide guidance to building owners concerning PCB containing caulk in buildings, EPA has produced three other fact sheets that address testing the air, and cleanup and disposal of caulk. These fact sheets can be found on EPA's website at: www.epa.gov/pcbsincaulk.
Key steps to assess PCBs in caulk
To assess the situation at any given building, consider the following four factors:
1. Review and analyze any available test data on the concentration of PCBs in the air, soil or in the caulk, and other building materials, including records about construction or the product or when it was installed. Read EPA's fact sheet on Testing for PCBs in Caulk and Buildings.
2. Assess the location and condition of the caulk including if pieces of caulk have it been tracked or fallen into surrounding areas such as a playground adjacent to the building or other rooms in the building. Areas that should be assessed include:
- caulk used to seal doors, windows and expansion joints including any areas where caulk was removed and replaced during past renovations.
- caulk found inside the building on the floor, window sills, ledges, concrete joints, or other areas;
- outdoor areas where any caulk is found. This may be of particular concern if the caulk is on the exterior of the building where it may have impacted the soils, particularly if there are routinely used areas nearby, such as gardens, play areas, bus stops and student pick up areas;
- indoor halls and common use areas, including school classrooms, particularly if there appears to be the potential for caulk to be touched or peeled away by a child or adult.
- old caulk that is still flexible or is in visibly good condition may be a source of PCBs into the air. The only way to be sure that caulk has PCBs is to have a professional test the caulk.
3. Determine the potential for human exposure to the caulk (e.g., whether it is in an area where people can readily come in contact with it).
Frequency and duration of exposure
The extent of exposure to PCBs in caulk is determined by the concentration of PCBs in the air, the surface area exposed; and the frequency and duration of contact with the caulk, or with PCBs in the air that have been released from caulk, or some other PCB-containing source. For each place at the school or other building where there is caulk or another emitting source, consider the potential for release of PCBs (for caulk a product of the concentration and exposed area); frequency (how often the contact occurs) and duration (length of time of each contact) of exposure.
Consider areas outdoors as well as indoors where children, teachers, staff or others may touch, ingest, breathe in dust or soil, or otherwise come into contact with any material that potentially has been contaminated by PCBs from the caulk.
Special emphasis should be given to routine use areas such as gardens, play areas, bus stops, student pick up areas and areas known to have inadequate ventilation. A site-specific risk assessment would need to be conducted in order to truly determine whether or not caulk contains PCBs.
Read EPA's fact sheet on Testing for PCBs in Caulk in Buildings.
4. Identify interim actions to minimize exposure
Caulk that contains PCBs at greater than 50 ppm is not authorized for continued use and must be removed. Although you are not required to remove caulk containing PCBs at levels below 50 ppm, you may wish to because the caulk may present health risks depending on the location, condition, etc. EPA recommends that owners and managers of buildings where PCBs are found take steps to minimize current potential exposure to building occupants until the caulk and contaminated surrounding materials can safely be removed. These recommendations include:
- Minimize contact with primary sources of PCBs such as PCB-containing caulk and its residues.
- Interim steps that may reduce exposure include changing use patterns, such as keeping people away from areas with contaminated soil such as under windows or expansion joints. In addition to isolating the area and keeping people away, proper cleaning of nearby surfaces can minimize both occupant and worker exposure to PCBs-containing caulk residues.
- Replace old lighting. Many old lighting systems contain ballasts manufactured with PCBs. These PCBs can be emitted into the air, especially if the ballast fails or ruptures. Replacement of old lighting systems with new, energy efficient systems will eliminate a potential source of PCBs.
- Improve Ventilation. An important action is to minimize the concentration of PCBs in the indoor air. Indoor air levels of PCBs within a school can be reduced by ensuring that the ventilation system is operating as designed, and to repair or improve the system if it is not.
- Adopt safe work practices. While not studied for PCBs, here are some work practice guidelines for proper cleaning that have been proven effective for post renovation cleanup of lead-based paint* in order to minimize exposure to contaminated dust:
- Clean frequently to reduce dust and residue inside buildings;
- Use a wet or damp cloth or mop to clean surfaces;
- Use vacuums with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters; operation of ventilation systems.
- Do not sweep with dry brooms; minimize the use of dusters;
- Wash hands with soap and water after cleaning, and before eating or drinking;
- For caulk used on windows, walls, columns and other vertical structures that people may come into contact with, use heavy-duty plastic and tape to contain the area so that caulk or dust and debris from the surrounding masonry do not escape. The plastic should cover the caulk and surrounding areas of masonry;
- Wear the appropriate protective clothing when conducting this cleanup;
- Dispose of all cleanup materials (mops, rags, filters, water, etc.) in accordance will all federal, state, and county regulations;
- Ensure proper operation of ventilation systems.
- Address Secondary Sources, if necessary: If mitigation goals (i.e. indoor air levels, surface wipe concentrations) are not reached after first addressing primary sources and doing other things such as improving ventilation and cleaning, then it may be necessary to address secondary sources (e.g. surrounding materials, paint, dust)
Based on EPA's Office of Research and Development's laboratory research, encapsulation was found to be most effective for interior surfaces that contain low levels of PCBs (i.e. several hundred parts per million). Depending on the PCB reduction goal, the performance of the encapsulant, and the conditions of the building, the upper limit of the PCB concentration for successful encapsulation may vary. Therefore, post-encapsulation monitoring is an essential part of the encapsulation process. Building owners should consult EPA's research on this issue for more specifics. Encapsulation may be useful for the reduction of emissions from secondary sources such as contaminated building materials under and around PCB-containing caulk or paint that has been removed. Encapsulation was not found to be effective in reducing emissions from sources that have a high PCB content (for example caulk) for more than a short period of time. Because each site will present unique circumstances, please consult your EPA PCB Regional Coordinator regarding the application of encapsulation measures on a case by case basis.
EPA is helping to address the issue of PCBs in caulk
EPA is conducting research on how the public is exposed to PCBs in caulk and on the best approaches for reducing exposure and potential risks associated with PCBs in caulk. Where PCBs have been found in the air, soil or in the caulk and other building materials, EPA is committed to helping schools and communities enact plans to reduce exposure. Please contact your EPA PCB Regional Coordinator at 1-888-835-5372 for help with assessing contamination and exposure and developing cleanup plans.
Ask EPA experts for help addressing PCBs in caulk
For further information on cleanup and removal of PCB caulk, contact EPA's Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Hotline at 1-888-835-5372 or the EPA PCB Regional Coordinator for your area.
This fact sheet is intended solely for guidance and should be used as an informal reference. It does not replace or supplant the requirements of the Toxic Substances Control Act or the PCB regulations at 40 CFR part 761, and it is not binding on the Agency or individuals. Please refer to the regulations at 40 CFR part 761 for specific requirements relating to PCBs and PCB-containing materials.