US EPA has announced a series of steps that building owners and school administrators should take to reduce exposure to PCBs that may be found in caulk in many buildings constructed or renovated between 1950 and 1978. EPA is also conducting new research to better understand the risks posed by caulk containing PCBs.
As background, polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are man-made chemicals that persist in the environment and were widely used in construction materials and electrical products prior to 1978. PCBs can affect the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system and are potentially cancer-causing if they build up in the body over long periods of time. Although Congress banned the manufacture and most uses of PCBs in 1976 and they were phased out in 1978, there is evidence that many buildings across the country constructed or renovated from 1950 to 1978 may have PCBs at high levels in the caulk around windows and door frames, between masonry columns, and in other masonry building materials. Exposure to these PCBs may occur as a result of their release from the caulk into the air, dust, surrounding surfaces, and soil and through direct contact.
If buildings were erected or renovated between 1950 and 1978, EPA is recommending that owners take steps to minimize exposure to potentially contaminated caulk:
- Cleaning air ducts.
- Improving ventilation by opening windows and using or installing exhaust fans where possible.
- Cleaning frequently to reduce dust and residue inside buildings.
- Using a wet or damp cloth or mop to clean surfaces.
- Not sweeping with dry brooms and minimizing the use of dusters in areas near potential PCB-containing caulk.
- Using vacuums with high efficiency particulate air filters.
- Washing hands with soap and water often, particularly before eating and drinking.
- Washing children’s toys often.
EPA also recommends testing peeling, brittle, cracking, or deteriorating caulk directly for the presence of PCBs and removing the caulk if PCBs are present at significant levels; or the building owner can assume the PCBs are present and proceed directly to remove deteriorating caulk.
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