What is PCB Testing?

The organic chemical, polychlorinated biphenyl, since being banned in the late 70s, have been identified as a probable human carcinogen. 

PCBs are man-made mixtures often consisting of hydrogen, carbon and chlorine atoms, and are found in electrical equipment, machinery and within building materials. PCB testing is performed by qualified lab specialists to ensure air, working environments and materials are safe for the people’s health.  

You may not know the dangers of high-levels of exposure when it comes to PCBs, where they are found, the proper way to sample, or how to use the services of a certified laboratory. In this post, we go over just those things and we address how you can best avoid the dangerous effects of PCB exposure.

What are PCBs?

PCBs belong to a family known as chlorinated hydrocarbons because they contain the atomic elements of chlorine, carbon and hydrogen. There is a range of toxicity about them which is why they have been banned in building materials. 

Despite PCBs being banned as building materials, they still remain in a large portion of school, commercial and industrial type buildings built between 1930 and 1979 in the United States. If you suspect the presence of PCBs in your air or surrounding materials, it’s important to consult with an experienced laboratory. 

Some examples of where PCB can be found are listed below:

  • Pigments
  • Dyes
  • Carbonless copy paper
  • Plasticizers in paints 
  • Plastic
  • Rubber products
  • Heat transfer equipment
  • Electrical equipment
  • Hydraulic equipment 

During the time of their height, they were used in many industrial and commercial applications. PCBs are non-flammable, chemically stable, maintain a high boiling point and have insulative properties that are electrical. 

Despite these characteristics, the severe health risks associated with these materials has caused the prohibition of them in building materials and makes it of the utmost importance to have suspected areas tested for contamination. 

The Effects of PCB Exposure

The severe effects of PCB have forbidden their use in building materials.  In order to fully protect the health of yourself and the people around you, you must know the dangers they can present. These symptoms and health effects can vary depending on the levels of toxicity and overall exposure. In recent research, common types of health hazards include health effects such as

  • Immune system
  • Endocrine system 
  • Nervous system
  • Reproductive system 

 According to the EPA, among some of the results of overexposure are the following:

  • Cancer 
  • Non-cancer effects
  • Reproductive effects
  • Endocrine effects
  • Neurological effects
  • Immune effects

Where Do PCBs Live?

PCBs can be found in a number of places, specifically products that are composed of organic materials. A few examples of where they may be present are listed below:

  • Waterproof fillers
  • Motor oils
  • Wire insulation
  • Plastics
  • Adhesives
  • Fluorescent lights
  • Electrical equipment
  • Oil-based paints
  • Carbonless copy paper
  • Oil for hydraulic systems
  • Thermal insulation material 
  • Floor finish
  • Older devices
  • Appliances containing PCB capacitors

How Does PCB Testing Work in Virginia?

Whether you are concerned about the safe quality of your air, a potential contamination in the workplace or you’re renovating your home, you will need to be sure you aren’t exposed to the levels of toxicity that can be present with PCBs. 

It’s important to have a characterizing plan when you sample materials that may contain PCBs. Caulk is perhaps the most common building material to contain PCBs and, in some cases, other building materials like wood, brick and masonry, may be contaminated when in contact with the caulk that contains PCBs. 

Dependent on what you’re testing, there will be certain levels provided by the EPA to deem the levels a health hazard or not. 

The steps to collect samples should follow in an order similar to the process listed below:

  1. Test indoor air to determine the presence of PCB
  2. Test building materials to determine the source of PCB. Materials with 50 ppm PCBs or more must be disposed of. 
  3. Evaluate the suspected material 
  4. Determine if surround materials require testing
  5. Identify areas that require reparable action
  6. Prioritize contaminated building materials for removal 

Collection procedures depend on the contaminated material. 

Be sure you contact your local, accredited laboratory to discuss the necessary steps to take for proper sample collection. 

The more common types of sample collections for PCB detection is bulk solid, porous surface, non-porous surface and indoor air samples

Bulk Solid Samples

Caulk, soil and sand are common examples of bulk solid samples. When testing, take a small portion of these materials for analysis. Be sure that the material you are testing is being tested independently. 

Porous Surface Samples

Concrete, wood, masonry and brick are common examples of porous surfaces. Be sure to collect the top 0.5 cm to 2 cm of the suspected surface that may be contaminated with PCBs. Chisels, saws and drills are useful tools for extracting these samples. 

Non-Porous Surface Samples

An example of a non-porous surface sample is commonly recognized as an unpainted metal surface. For these samples, a wipe test can be conducted to test the surface for PCB contamination. A gauze pad saturated with hexane is best to collect the sample. Be sure to thoroughly swab the area. 

Indoor Air Samples

For indoor air samples, get in touch with a lab-certified PCB specialist for the best type of sampling methods to use. There are EPA methods that dictate the most appropriate ways to collect samples of suspected PCB-contaminated air. Typically, air sampling kits are best for this type of testing. 

Finding a Certified Laboratory in the Richmond Area

When PCB presence is suspected, contact EHS Laboratories. With years of experience in ensuring the health and safety of persons and the environment, we are here to give you accurate and timely testing results. Get in touch with us today!