Draft plan to reduce exposures open for public comment

Tests of 68 consumer products confirmed that polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are present in commonly used items. Forty-nine, or 72 percent, of the products contained at least one of four PCB types.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s Clean Water Initiative to update water quality standards and reduce toxic threats includes PCBs as a key chemical of concern. The Washington Department of Ecology has drafted a chemical action plan identifying PCB sources in the state and recommending ways to reduce exposures. The plan is open for public comment now through Oct. 6.

Items tested in the study include paper products, paints and colorants, caulking, printer ink and some product packaging. Full details — including a complete product listing — are available in a report on the Ecology website ( The study focused on four PCB types that previous studies have linked to pigments and dyes. A future report will include results for all 209 PCB types.

Ecology ran the tests to gauge PCB levels in consumer products and potential releases of this toxic class of long-lasting chemicals to Washington’s environment.

“Although PCBs were banned for most uses in 1979, they are often inadvertently produced at lower — but still problematic — levels during manufacturing processes,” said Alex Stone, lead chemist on the project. “Concentrations in each product are low. However, the large numbers of products that contain PCBs add up to significant releases to the environment.”

PCBs have toxic effects to the immune, reproductive, nervous, and hormone-regulation systems in humans and other living things. PCBs also cause cancer in animals and are considered likely to cause cancer in humans.

PCB contamination is widespread throughout Washington and found in almost every waterbody in the state. Contamination levels are high enough to require cleanup plans in several areas, including Lake Washington, the Lower Duwamish Waterway, Spokane River and Wenatchee River. Ecology also found elevated PCB levels in the Puget Sound basin and estimated releases as part of the Puget Sound Toxics Assessment.

Ecology has begun a second round of testing for PCBs in consumer products with a focus on yellow, green and blue paints and colorants, colored clothing, cosmetics, soaps, office products and products used by children, such as fingerpaints and comic books. Some of this testing will help state agencies comply with a new law requiring agencies to only buy PCB-free products.

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