PCBs: Why are banned chemicals still hurting the environment today?

PCBs released from General Electric facilities on the Upper Hudson River present a serious and long-term threat to the health of the entire Hudson River ecosystem. Living resources at every level of the Hudson River’s aquatic, terrestrial, and wetland-based food chains are contaminated with PCBs. The Service, NOAA, and NYDEC are measuring the harm caused by this contamination.

NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

Heavy machinery removes soil and rocks in a polluted stream. PCB contamination is high in the Housatonic River and New Bedford Harbor in Massachusetts. How high? The “highest concentrations of PCBs ever documented in a marine environment.” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

For the United States, the 20th century was an exciting time of innovation in industry and advances in technology. We were manufacturing items such as cars, refrigerators, and televisions, along with the many oils, dyes, and widgets that went with them. Sometimes, however, technology races ahead of responsibility, and human health and the environment can suffer as a result.

This is certainly the case for the toxic compounds known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. From the 1920s until they were banned in 1979, the U.S. produced an estimated 1.5 billion pounds of these industrial chemicals. They were used in a variety of manufacturing processes, particularly for electrical parts, across the country. Wastes containing PCBs were often improperly…

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