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Facts About PCBs in Caulk

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What are PCBs and Why Should I be Concerned?

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) belong to a broad family of man-made organic chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons. 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; and as plasticizers in paints, plastics, rubber products, and building caulk. PCBs were manufactured domestically starting in 1929, until they were banned from manufacture in 1979.

Exposure to PCBs can cause a variety of adverse health effects in animals and humans. In animal studies, PCBs have been shown to cause cancer as well as serious non-cancer health effects. In humans, PCBs are potentially cancer-causing and can cause other non-cancer effects including immune system suppression, liver damage, endocrine disruption, and damage to the reproductive and nervous systems. Read more about the health effects of PCBs.

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Why Were PCBs Used in Caulk?

caulking gun PCBs were a common additive to caulk because of their water and chemical resistance, durability, and elasticity. PCBs were added as a plasticizer in caulking used to seal joints between masonry units and around windows. Caulk containing PCBs was used in some buildings, including schools, primarily between 1950 and 1980. PCBs were also used in other building materials such as paints, mastics, sealants, adhesives, and specialty coatings.

EPA does not have information on the extent of the use of PCB-containing caulk or whether it was primarily used in certain geographic areas. To date, it has been found in school buildings and other buildings in the northeastern, southern, and mid-western United States. PCB-containing caulk has also been found in the joints in concrete water storage basins in the western United States, and in an airport runway in the Pacific Northwest.

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How Do I Determine if My Building May Have PCBs?

The age of the structure can tell you a lot about whether PCB-containing caulk is likely to be present.

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How Can Exposure to PCBs Occur?

window sill Exposure to PCBs can occur by directly touching PCB-containing caulk and surrounding building materials or soil (dermal contact), hand to mouth contact after touching PCB-containing caulk and surrounding building materials or soil (ingestion), and breathing in air or dust contaminated with PCBs (inhalation).

PCBs may also be released into the surrounding soil from exterior caulk. Caulk that is not intact and is peeling, brittle, cracking, or visibly deteriorating in some way has a high potential to release PCBs into surrounding soil. PCB-contaminated soil can be a source of exposure for individuals who visit adjacent play areas or gardens.

Indoor air quality may be affected by PCBs. PCBs can slowly be released into the air from caulk and be inhaled. Caulk dust particles can come into contact with people in the building. They can also enter the air handling system and move to other areas of the building. In addition to deteriorating caulk, caulk with the highest PCB concentrations should also receive a high priority for removal, as these materials may pose a greater potential for direct exposure and release of PCBs to indoor air.

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What are the Regulations Governing PCBs?

PCBs are regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which became law in 1976. TSCA bans the manufacture, processing, use and distribution in commerce of PCBs, and gives EPA the authority to regulate the use, manufacture, cleanup, storage, and disposal of PCBs.

The current PCB regulations were published pursuant to this Act, and can be found in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (40 CFR Part 761). The use of PCBs in caulk is not authorized under TSCA's PCB regulations. Caulk and surrounding contaminated building materials that have been removed are considered waste under the PCB regulations and must be cleaned up and disposed of in accordance with Subpart D of 40 CFR 761. Please consult with your state's PCB Regional Coordinator and environmental agency for the disposal options for this waste material.

In addition, states may have their own regulatory requirements applicable to PCBs. You should consult your state environmental agency for information on such requirements, if any.

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Do I Need to be Concerned about PCBs if I am Conducting a Building Renovation?

Before you begin a renovation or repair job, consider whether PCB-containing caulk may be an issue. If your building was built in 1980 or later, you are unlikely to have PCB-contamination from caulk. If your building was built between 1950 and 1980, you have several options:

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Where can I Get More Information about PCBs in Caulk?

More information on PCBs in caulk may be found at EPA's PCBs in caulk Web page.

You may direct additional questions to the Regional PCB Coordinator for your state.

Next page: Steps to Safe Renovation and Repair Activities

Previous page: Introduction

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