Life cycle of PCBs and contamination of the environment and of food products from animal origin

This report gives a summary of the historic use, former management and current release of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Germany and assesses the impact of the life cycle of PCBs on the contamination of the environment and of food products of animal origin. In Germany 60,000 t of PCBs were used in transformers, capacitors or as hydraulic oils. The use of PCB oils in these “closed applications”, has been banned in Germany in 2000. Thirty to 50% of these PCBs were not appropriately managed. In West Germany, 24,000 t of PCBs were used in open applications, mainly as additive (plasticiser, flame retardant) in sealants and paints in buildings and other construction. The continued use in open applications has not been banned, and in 2013, an estimated more than 12,000 t of PCBs were still present in buildings and other constructions. These open PCB applications continuously emit PCBs into the environment with an estimated release of 7-12 t per year. This amount is in agreement with deposition measurements (estimated to 18 t) and emission estimates for Switzerland. The atmospheric PCB releases still have a relevant impact on vegetation and livestock feed. In addition, PCBs in open applications on farms are still a source of contamination for farmed animals. Furthermore, the historic production, use, recycling and disposal of PCBs have contaminated soils along the lifecycle. This legacy of contaminated soils and contaminated feed, individually or collectively, can lead to exceedance of maximum levels in food products from animals. In beef and chicken, soil levels of 5 ng PCB-TEQ/kg and for chicken with high soil exposure even 2 ng PCB-TEQ/kg can lead to exceedance of EU limits in meat and eggs. Areas at and around industries having produced or used or managed PCBs, or facilities and areas where PCBs were disposed need to be assessed in respect to potential contamination of food-producing animals. For a large share of impacted land, management measures applicable on farm level might be sufficient to continue with food production. Open PCB applications need to be inventoried and better managed. Other persistent and toxic chemicals used as alternatives to PCBs, e.g. short chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs), should be assessed in the life cycle for exposure of food-producing animals and humans.

Authors: Weber R, Herold C, Hollert H, Kamphues J, Ungemach L, Blepp M, Ballschmiter K. ; Full Source: Environmental Science & Pollution Research International. 2018 Mar 27. doi: 10.1007/s11356-018-1811-y. [Epub ahead of print]

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