16 Sept 2011


The overnight fire in Mitchell in Canberra has brought my attention the risks associated with having hazardous chemical industries in the city environs.

Surely this is a wake up call to us all these industries should be located outside city areas.

As for PCB's I thought that these chemicals were banned many years ago, if so how come they are still being used in Australia?

What are PCB's?
PCBs belong to a group of toxic organochlorines and were used extensively as fluids in electrical equipment such as transformers and capacitors. They were also used in pesticides, carbonless copier paper, fluorescent light ballast and other products. 

PCBs are a serious health problem because of their persistence in the environment, their accumulation in human and animal tissues, and their potential for chronic or delayed toxicity. The importation of PCBs for most purposes was banned in Australia in the 1970s. However some equipment containing PCBs is still in use today. 

Many workers exposed to PCBs have not been given information about the hazards of PCBs or information about correct procedures for the safe handling, transport and disposal of PCBs. 

Common or trade names for PCB Compounds include: 
Askarel; Aroclor, Chlorinated Biphenyl; Chlorinated Diphenyl; Chlorinol; Chlorobiphenyl, Chlorodiphenyl, Diachlor; Dykanol; DK; Fenchlor: Inerteen; Kanechlor; Montar; No-Flamol; PCBs; Polychlorinated Biphenyls; Phenochlor; Pyranol; Santotherm and Therminol. 

●     What if PCBs are involved in a fire?
When PCBs are burned, they can form polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) and polychlorinated 
dibenzodioxins (PCDDs). Some of these compounds are far more toxic and cancer-causing than PCBs, 
and they can be the main hazard from a PCB fire. Fortunately, only very small amounts of these 
compounds are usually created. Like PCBs, they usually cause no short-term health effects (except 
chloracne if exposure is very large). Also, as with PCBs, there is no useful way to measure or predict 
health effects, there is no treatment for an exposed person, and a single exposure would not substantially 
increase your lifetime risk of getting cancer.

A broad range of health problems have been reported in people exposed to PCBs. These health effects increase with the amount of PCBs and the length of exposure. PCBs accumulate in the body with repeated exposure and are stored in fat tissue and body organs including the liver, kidneys, lungs and brain. 

PCB exposure can cause:

  • Chloracne (a severe, persistent acne-like rash) is the most commonly observed symptom in people exposed to high levels
  • Liver damage
  • Respiratory disorders.
  • Thyroid gland disorders.
  • Muscle and joint pain, headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
  • Cancer - PCBs are classed as Carcinogen Class 2 (probable human carcinogen).
  • Reproductive problems in animals. These include increased spontaneous abortion rates, still births, underweight births and decreased post-natal survival.
When PCBs are exposed to extreme heat they may form dioxins, which are highly toxic. 

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