Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls PCBs

If you have been exposed to toxic industrial chemicals you could be entitled to compensation.

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Do you dismantle or replace old electrical equipment, including switchgear, transformers and capacitors?

This equipment may contain chemicals called PCBs which can often harm your health.

PCB’s or Polychlorinated biphenyls to give them their full title are stable man-made organic compounds that have been in use since the 1920’s.

They can be found in:

  • paints and cements 
  • flexible PVC coatings of electrical cables and components
  • pesticides
  • cutting oils
  • flame retardants
  • lubricating oils
  • hydraulic fluids
  • sealants, adhesives, wood floor finishes
  • de-dusting agents
  • waterproofing compounds
  • casting agents
  • vacuum pump fluids
  • surgical implants
  • and in carbonless copy paper.

The biggest manufacturer was an American company known as Monsanto who marketed them from around 1930 until 1977.

PCBs and industrial use

Their biggest value to industry was their stability and this stability has been the major reason for the problems they have caused in recent years as the biggest problem arising from their use is what to do with them once they are finished with. PCBs are not biodegradable and do not burn easily and as a consequence safe disposal of PCBs is almost impossible. As a consequence they have found their way into the food chain and once this was discovered it became clear that the PCB’s were causing problems for those that were coming into contact with them both directly and indirectly.

PCB’s were often used in the electric industry as a non-flammable replacement for mineral oil to cool and insulate industrial transformers, capacitors and switch gear. They were also often used as heat stabilisers in cable and electronic components.

People engaged in industries where they repair, replace or dismantle old electrical equipment including switch gear, transformers and capacitors are most likely to come into contact with PCBs as much of this older type of equipment often contained PCBs in various amounts.

They were used as dielectric filler liquids in some types of electrical equipment such as transformers, switchgear, capacitors and often in the starter units found in older fluorescent lights and fractional horsepower motors.

It is reasonable to assume that any capacitor or transformer made before 1976 will contain PCBs unless you are told otherwise. In fact some equipment even pre-dating that date will have even been labelled as containing PCBs. More worrying it is also not unusual for capacitors and transformers manufactured between 1976 and 1986 to contain PCBs and not carry a label warning of its presence.

So how do they affect my health?

If you are repeatedly exposed to PCBs they will gradually build up in your body over a period of time they can cause a variety of conditions including a skin condition called Chloracne, which produces pustules, blackheads and cysts.

Whilst, more serious problems have been found in animals (Including damage to the liver and a reduced ability to fight infection), there is evidence to suggest that Women exposed to PCBs before or during pregnancy may give birth to children with lowered cognitive ability compromised, immune systems and motor control problems.

Additionally high PCB levels in humans have been shown to result in reduced levels of the thyroid hormone which affects almost every physiological process in the body, including growth and development, metabolism, body temperature, and heart rate. It can also result in reduced immunity and an increase in thyroid disorders.

PCBs enter the body in three ways:

  1. direct contact with the skin. PCBs pass easily through intact skin, so this is likely to be the main way they get into your body;
  2. by breathing in fumes, spray or droplets if PCB-containing equipment is being cut or heated;
  3. by swallowing PCBs if you eat, drink or smoke in the workplace.

You should not do any work where there is a possibility that you may come into contact with PCBs, including dealing with spilt PCBs, unless you have been adequately trained by your employer and you have been shown a specific method to follow.

In some cases the capacitors in fluorescent light fittings may leak and need to be replaced. If this happens only very small quantities of fluid are involved and engaging the assistance of a specialist contactor is clearly not necessary. In a case like this common sense should be applied and all you need to do is wear suitable disposable gloves, wipe down any spillage with paper or cloth wipes, and wash your hands when you have finished the job.

However when larger amounts of PCBs are involved because PCBs can pass easily through your skin, you should always wear adequate personal protective equipment if there is any possibility of contact with PCBs. All cuts and abrasions need to be covered with dressings before you put on your protective clothing.

PPE must include:

  1. an impervious boiler suit or overalls;
  2. suitable gloves;
  3. suitable gloves;
  4. goggles or visor;
  5. respirator.

However, no material is completely impervious to PCBs

if you have worked in the industries outlined above and think that you may have come into contact with PCBs during the course of your employment and have developed any of the symptoms outlined above it is better to be safe than sorry and you should not delay seeking medical advice in the hope that the symptoms will simply go away.

You should consult your doctor straight away and raise your concerns.

Could you obtain compensation for exposure to PCBs in the workplace?

If you would like to find out more about investigating the possibility of pursuing a compensation claim arising from your exposure to PCBs then please contact one of our specialist industrial disease lawyers.  We will be happy to help you and establish whether you have a claim to make and if you do to ensure you recover the maximum amount of compensation you are entitled to and provide you with a free initial consultation to discuss your case, and we also offer no-win no-fee agreements.  Contact us today on 0333 323 1632. Alternatively, please email us at enquiries@ibbclaims.co.uk or complete our online form.


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