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Drinking Water

The history of PCBs and the implications

September 27, 2011
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Although the production of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) was banned in the U.S. in 1977, they are still prevalent in our water today. A lot of the chemicals released into the ground years ago are still cycling through the water systems. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the main way they are brought into drinking water is through runoffs from landfills and discharge of waste chemicals.

According to the Environmental Working Group, the use of PCBs began in the 1930s when they were used as coolants and lubricants for electrical equipment. They were used in such devices as vacuum pumps, surface coatings and copy paper. In 1974 the U.S. government said PCBs were human carcinogens. They were then linked to the cause of cancer and other various health problems in the ‘70s, which lead to its banishment.

Today the chemical is still leaked into the ground from old metals that were built years ago before the ban. They penetrate deep into the soil and will sit there for years to come. Even though precautions and standards have been set, there are still cases today of PCB outbreaks.

If exposed to PCBs they can cause skin irritations, such as acne and rashes. When exposed for a long period of time above the EPA’s set MCL of 0.0005 milligrams per liter, they could potentially cause: Effects similar to acute poisonings, irritation of the nose, throat and gastrointestinal tracts, changes in liver function, problems with thymus gland, immune deficiencies or reproductive or nervous system difficulties, according to the EPA.

The only know method to prevent PCBs from entering drinking water is by granular activated carbon, according to Carbtrol. This carbon absorbs many organic compounds from contaminated water and air streams by a physical attraction, which hold molecules of the absorbate at the surface of a solid by the surface tension of the solid. The ability of the carbon to absorb a certain compound varies depending on the compound. To intensify absorption, isotherms are added.

Polychlorinated biphenyls can be detrimental to one’s health and all precautions necessary must be taken to prevent this chemical from being consumed by people. The history of PCBs ranges back years, but there are still things to learn about them and still may be other ways to help prevent them.

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