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PCB-11 found in almost all paper, clothing products; chemical exposure near ubiquitous

Posted: February 24, 2014 |   Comments

( Polychlorinated biphenyls, a toxic class of industrial chemicals that has been linked to cancer, lowered IQs and toxic effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems and was banned in the United States and Canada in the 1970s, has recently been shown by researchers from Rutgers University (RU) to still be widely present throughout our environment.

In particular, PCB-11, a byproduct of yellow pigment manufacturing, was detected in nearly all samples of paper products sold in 26 countries and clothing sold in the United States.

Furthermore, scientists from the University of Iowa (UI) published a study in 2013 showing that 60 percent of women tested had traces of PCB-11 in their blood. And since this compound is "rapidly metabolized and excreted," the fact that it's being detected in people shows that we are "constantly exposed," said postdoctoral researcher Rachel Marek.

UI researchers wrote in 2010 that exposure to PCB-11 may come from inhaling, touching or ingesting the chemical. And in 2007, it was found in nearly every air sample taken near 40 elementary schools in Chicago.

Part of the reason for their ban in the 1970s is the fact that PCBs accumulate in animals and the environment, but PCB-11 is not as persistent and is metabolized more quickly by the human body, so its effects on health have not been studied as extensively. However, UI researchers reported last year that PCB-11 can disrupt cell signaling, and scientists from the University at Albany-SUNY said that PCB-9, which is similar to PCB-11, is more toxic than other PCBs.

Federal regulations allow byproducts of manufacturing to be included as "unintentional contaminants," including PCBs. These compounds "are defined as excluded manufacturing products or processes and are not regulated as long as they are reported to EPA and the PCB concentrations do not exceed specified limits," said Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson Cathy Milbourn.

In the RU study, researchers tested 16 pieces of US clothing, mostly children's items bought at Wal-Mart, all of which contained PCB-11. One kid's pajama top had 20 times as much PCB-11 on the front, which had yellow print, than on the back. PCB-11 has also been found in the New York-New Jersey Harbor, the Delaware River, the Houston Ship Canal, the Rio Grande, the San Francisco Bay and the Great Lakes in recent years.

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