PCB Exposure: Understanding the Toxic Chemical and the Ongoing Legal Battle

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been a subject of controversy for decades. Their toxic nature and widespread use in a variety of commercial and industrial applications have made them the topic of discussion. 

These chemicals were manufactured worldwide from 1929 until the U.S. banned their production in 1979. Though banned, PCBs are present in products manufactured before the 1970s. These might include fluorescent light ballasts and old electrical appliances outfitted with PCB capacitors. 

Decades of research claim that PCBs harm human health. These claims have given rise to PCB exposure lawsuits. Now comes the question: are PCBs a matter of concern, or are the claims baseless? We’ll discuss that, as well as the ongoing legal battle, in this guide. 

What are PCBs?

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, belong to a broad family of man-made organic chemicals called chlorinated hydrocarbons. PCBs are oily liquids or solids that are clear to light yellow in color. These chemicals also have no known taste or smell. 

This group of human-made chemicals is used for various commercial and industrial purposes. Their chemical stability, high boiling point, non-flammability, and electrical insulating properties have contributed to their popularity in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications. 

PCBs are used as plasticizers in adhesives and paints, coolants and lubricants in transformers and capacitors, and hydraulic fluids and insulating materials. 

Health Effects of Exposure to PCBs

Exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls is a matter of concern because they are resistant to breaking down. They can remain in the environment for a long period of time.

PCBs enter the human body through food, water, air, or skin contact. These chemicals are easily absorbed by the body, and they are lipophilic, i.e., lipid-loving molecules. They get dissolved in lipids. Thus, they accumulate in the body. This accumulation of PCBs in the human body can harm it in more ways than you can imagine. 

In this section, we’ll discuss some health risks associated with exposure to PCBs. 

1. Cancer

Based on limited evidence for breast cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as sufficient evidence for malignant melanoma, the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) has classified PCBs as carcinogenic to humans. This classification is mostly based on studies of higher-chlorinated PCBs, usually found in food. 

Occupational studies of exposure to PCBs at high levels, mainly through inhalation, discovered higher mortality from gallbladder, liver, and urinary tract cancer. Animal findings also support that low-chlorinated PCBs can induce a carcinogenic effect, specifically in the liver. 

Another study found a positive association between PCB exposure and thyroid cancer. 

PCBs promote the growth of cancer cells through the imbalance of molecular and signal pathways. A recent molecular docking study reveals that these chemicals can dysregulate thyroid hormone by interfering with the MAPK3, MAPK1, PIK3R1, and PI3K-Akt signaling pathways. These intersecting genes play a key role in thyroid cancer genesis. 

2. Reproductive Effects

Recent studies indicate that bioaccumulation of PCBs can reduce fertility. Studies further conclude that the harmful effects of these chemicals on the reproductive system can be passed to offspring. 

Another review reveals that PCBs can act as androgen receptor (AR)-antagonists and aryl-hydrocarbon receptor (AhR)-agonists. Both these mechanisms can affect male reproductive development in vivo, impacting sperm quality and regulation of sex hormones. 

Epidemiological evidence links exposure to PCB congeners with adverse male reproductive health outcomes, including late pubertal onsets and cryptorchidism. 

In women, PCB concentrations might affect hormones of the menstrual cycle’s luteal phase. PCB exposure has been linked with infertility in females. It is also reported to lead to the development of endometriosis. 

3. Nervous System Disorders

Different scientific studies on both humans and animals reveal that the developing brain is vulnerable to the toxic effects of PCBs. 

Exposure to PCBs when the nervous system is developing increases the risk of neuropsychological impairments in children, as shown by impaired psychomotor and cognitive functions. Deficits in learning, attention, and memory are also observed among children exposed to PCBs. 

Newer studies suggest that PCB exposure in the prenatal period can increase the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorders. Experimental studies on animals prove that exposure to PCB causes neurobehavioral effects similar to those observed in human beings. 

PCB Lawsuit: The Ongoing Legal Battle

The adverse effects of PCB exposure have resulted in a wave of lawsuits against companies responsible for the manufacturing and disposal of these man-made organic chemicals.

Even though polychlorinated biphenyls are no longer manufactured today, they are still present in numerous sites. During the 50-year period, several people, as well as animals, were exposed to PCBs. Exposure to these chemicals has resulted in the development of serious health issues. 

Legal action concerning PCBs is targeting Monsanto because it was the primary manufacturer of the chemical. The company manufactured PCBs from the late 1920s until they were banned in the 1970s, observes TorHoerman Law. 

Plaintiffs in the PCB exposure lawsuit assert that exposure to PCBs from light fixtures manufactured by Monsanto caused damage to the endocrine and neurological system and other health effects. They further argue that Monsanto was aware of the harmful effects of PCBs on human health, yet it continued their use in fluorescent lighting fixtures. 

General Electric Co. has also been named in the lawsuit. Several people have filed lawsuits against the two companies, including the residents who lived near the former GE site and its PCB landfills. 

One of the plaintiffs, Betty Jackson, suffering from cancer, filed a lawsuit for herself, as well as her late sister Carol Barosso. Another plaintiff, who happened to be the brother of the two sisters, Charles Barosso, filed a suit. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Their complaints cite scientific evidence that links PCBs to their conditions. 

In a major legal blow, Monsanto was ordered to pay $857 million to five former students and two parent volunteers at the Sky Valley Education Center in Monroe, Washington. These people claimed to be affected by chemicals leaking from light fittings. Most cases have been resolved, but a few are still pending. 

To sum things up, PCB exposure is a controversial issue, with ongoing legal battles shedding light on past industrial practices. 

You’re eligible to file a lawsuit if you’ve developed severe health issues such as cancer due to exposure to PCBs. But, you will receive compensation only if you prove that you contracted the illness due to exposure to the organic chemical. An experienced lawyer can help you do so. Thus, it’s best to seek legal help before you file a PCB exposure lawsuit. 

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