Since 1978, when the Toxic Substance Control Act banned the production of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the EPA has duped the public into believing that PCB contamination of air, soils and water, which is ubiquitous worldwide, is the result of past usage. Meanwhile, the public is only now realizing that the EPA has been legalizing PCB pollution when PCBs are “inadvertently” created as by-products of an industrial process.  In fact, in my thirty-five years of attempting to help protect the environment and public health from PCB poisoning, I only just learned that PCBs are a by-product of the manufacturing of the color blue, blue that is everywhere. I will share more about this process in future blogs and about the cost of the EPA PCB coverup to the environment and public health.

Below is an article copied from Environmental Health News about PCBs in paint.


“Long-banned chemicals still in paint, contaminating Chicago’s air”

Hundreds of pounds of toxic PCBs, banned in the ’70s, taint Chicago’s air each year; sources include paints still sold on the market  

October 21, 2015

By Brian Bienkowski
Environmental Health News

More than 400 pounds of toxic PCBs are emitted to Chicago’s air each year and researchers warn that some of this load comes via a chemical reaction in paint still sold in hardware stores.

The chemicals were once widely used as electrical insulators and industrial lubricants but were banned in the late 1970s when researchers found them building up in people and linked them to health effects such as cancer, heart problems and impacts to brain development.New research designed to inventory the chemicals in Chicago finds soils, sewage sludge and paint are major sources and current cleanup strategies may not be the most effective for protecting people’s health.

“Architectural paint that we buy at hardware stores contributes to a significant amount of PCBs people are exposed to everyday. That’s just crazy.”Keri Hornbuckle, University of Iowa PCBs, short for polychlorinated biphenyls, now seem to be a byproduct of certain pigment production. In recent years researchers have found that some paints, clothing, newspapers and magazines contain forms of the chemicals, usually a specific compound called PCB-11.

“Architectural paint that we buy at hardware stores contributes to a significant amount of PCBs people are exposed to every day. That’s just crazy,” said Keri Hornbuckle, a professor at the University of Iowa’s department of civil and environmental engineering, who previously foundmore than 50 PCB compounds in 33 commercial paint pigments purchased from U.S. stores.

PCBs build up in the fat tissues of fish and some animals and eating such foods has long been considered the major exposure route for humans. But there is increasing evidence that inhaling airborne PCBs also plays a role in people’s toxic load and such exposures—small as they are—can result in disease.

“PCBs are dangerous chemicals … even low concentrations of PCBs in air constitute an important route of exposure and disease, especially if the exposure is prolonged,” wrote Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany-SUNY, in a report this year on airborne PCBs.

In the first comprehensive inventory of PCBs for a city, Hornbuckle and colleagues examined where the chemicals are and where airborne emissions come from in Chicago.

Paints—both on the exterior and interior of buildings—were just a sliver of the city’s PCBs load, but contributed 7 percent of total emissions.

They calculated paint emissions by looking at the annual volume of paint sold in the city estimated to have PCB-containing pigments, and past studies of how the chemicals are emitted from paint.

Some of the larger emissions sources were drying sewage sludge and contaminated soils.

City soils—which accounted for 31 percent of emissions—did not include Superfund sites or other areas know to be contaminated, said co-author Scott Spak, an assistant professor of urban and regional planning and engineering at the University of Iowa.

“These are soils across the city—parks, backyards, highway medians,” Spak said.

“This makes cleaning up urban soils across cities one of the harder sources to mitigate,” he said.

While all PCBs can escape from soils, PCB-11 is one of the most volatile forms of the chemical, the authors warn, saying it may be emitted to air within hours to days of applying the paint.

Sixty percent of 85 women from East Chicago, Indiana, and Columbus Junction, Iowa, had traces of PCB-11 in their blood, according to a 2013 study from Hornbuckle and colleagues.

Steve Sides—vice president of the American Coatings Association, which represents paint manufacturers—said in an email that they are aware of studies finding low levels of contaminants in paint materials but had “nothing to add” in regards to the Chicago study.

PCBs as a byproduct of pigment manufacturing remain exempt from the Toxic Control Substances Act, the federal law regulating chemicals because the amounts aren’t large enough to be significant. [This is because maximum contaminant levels are set to protect polluters, and low-dose exposure to toxins does not factor in the accumulative effect of pollutants such as PCBs].

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which enforces chemical regulation [see my upcoming blog on EPA, the many-headed serpent], has requested that federal scientists from the National Toxicology Program investigate PCB-11’s potential to harm people, said EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn in an email.

In addition, there are limits on the concentrations of such “inadvertently [but knowingly] generated PCBs” [, Milbourn said.

“Specifically an annual average of no more than 25 [parts per million] and a 50 [parts per million] maximum” in products manufactured or imported into the United States, she said.

Hornbuckle and Spak argue that, while the concentrations of PCBs in paint may be small, the EPA should consider that the chemicals are easily released into air.
EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author’s name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN’s version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at


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