Blog   |   Mar 8th, 2017 New AIHA book addresses health risks of PCBs in buildings

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The public health threat from PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, has received much attention in the context of contamination from industrial activity in locations including the Housatonic River and New Bedford Harbor in Massachusetts, Hudson River in New York, Kalamazoo River in Michigan, and Fox River and Sheboygan Harbor in Wisconsin.

In recent years, evidence has also mounted that many public, residential, and commercial buildings built or renovated between 1950 and 1979 may be impacted by the unauthorized use of PCBs in caulks, paints, grout, mastics, and other building materials. In the U.S., where PCBs have been determined to be a probable human carcinogen, the production of PCBs was banned in 1979, and their use and disposal is restricted, owing to the associated health and environmental risks. Building owners and occupants are, however, rarely aware of the existence of these materials, or their potential dangers.

For that reason, my colleague Bart Ashley and I are pleased to announce that the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) has recently published the book “Assessment and Remediation of PCBs in the Built Environment” with guidelines to support understanding and responses to this issue.  

The book is an extension of the 2013 white paper that Bart and I helped to develop through our roles on various AIHA committees. The paper advised that more scientific research and data collection was needed related to exposure risks. It also called for exposure assessment profiles to better understand which populations may be at high risk, and possible regulatory changes based on risk assessment analyses to protect public health and the environment.

The new AIHA book builds on those recommendations. Some of its guidance includes:

  1. The identification and assessment of PCB-containing and PCB-contaminated materials in buildings, including items and materials such as fluorescent light ballasts, caulks, coatings, and soil.  Also discussed is the potential for co-contaminants, such as asbestos or lead, in certain materials.
  2. Laboratory analytical and field screening methods to determine PCBs in bulk, wipe and air samples, including analysis for PCBs as Aroclors, homologs, and congeners, as well as interpretation of the results.  The guideline also provides details on how to collect specific samples.
  3. A discussion on the various remediation methods that are currently available; recommendations for worker protection; a discussion on exposure assessment of building occupants, maintenance and janitorial workers, and abatement contractors; and details on how to properly dispose of PCB-containing and contaminated materials.

The AIHA is one of the largest international associations serving Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety (OEHS) professionals practicing industrial hygiene and is a resource for those in large corporations, small businesses and who work independently as consultants. Founded in 1939, AIHA is a nonprofit organization devoted to achieving and maintaining the highest professional standards for its members, and it states its mission as “Creating knowledge to protect worker health.” More than half of the nearly 10,000 members are certified industrial hygienists (CIHs), and many hold other professional designations. AIHA administers comprehensive education programs that keep occupational and environmental health and safety (OEHS) professionals current in the field of industrial hygiene.

As OEHS professionals work to deepen their understanding of the impacts and risks of PCBs contained in building materials, we look forward to “Assessment and Remediation of PCBs in the Built Environment” becoming a trusted reference source for all working to protect the health of workers and the public.

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Blog Author

Jack Springston, CIH, CSP

Jack  Springston, CIH, CSP

Jack Springston has over 26 years experience in industrial hygiene and occupational health. He has been a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) since 1993, and is one of only approximately 70 active CIHs who also hold a sub-specialty certificate in Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ). In addition, he has been a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) since 1996.

Jack received a BS Degree in Environmental Science and Biology from Long Island University/ Southampton College and a MS Degree in Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences from City University of New York/Hunter College. He is the current Chair of the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s (AIHA) Indoor Environmental Quality committee and is a past-Chair of their Biosafety and Environmental Microbiology committee. He is the 2001 recipient of AIHA’s Kusnetz Award, given annually to an industrial hygienist who, by exhibiting high ethical standards and technical abilities, has provided for the highest standards of health and safety protection for employees for whom he or she is responsible and who shows promise of leadership in the industrial hygiene profession, and in 2012 he was made a distinguished Fellow of AIHA.

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