Assessment and Remediation of PCBs in the Built Environment: New AIHA Guidance Document Now Available

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) recently released “Assessment and Remediation of PCBs in the Built Environment” to provide guidance on the growing issues of concern surrounding PCBs in the built environment.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of man-made chemicals that were popularly used in construction and building materials. PCBs were manufactured from the late 1920’s until 1979 when PCB production was banned by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

An estimated 154 million pounds of PCBs were sold in the United States between 1958 and 1971 for use in “open application” products such as:

  • Inks
  • Lubricants
  • Waxes
  • Flame retardants
  • Adhesives
  • Electrical and thermal insulating materials
  • Pesticides
  • Dyes
  • Paints and other surface coatings
  • Asphalt
  • Caulks and sealants


There is increasing evidence that many public, residential, and commercial buildings built or renovated between 1950 and 1979 may be impacted by the unauthorized use of PCBs in caulks, paints, mastics, and other building materials.

For example, a study of buildings in Toronto, Canada found detectable quantities of PCBs in the sealants of 27% of the non-residential buildings surveyed. Additionally, EPA research has determined that caulk put in place between 1950 and 1979 may contain as much as 40 percent PCB and can emit PCBs into the surrounding air.

The TSCA considers material containing greater than 50 ppm PCBs to be an unauthorized use of PCBs. Those materials must be removed because of the health hazards presented by PCBs.

PCBs have been identified as probable human carcinogens. PCBs may also cause a variety of adverse health effects including liver damage and skin conditions such as acne or rashes. They can cause neurological and developmental delays and disturbances, immune system and thyroid effects, as well as disrupt hormone function.

Reports indicate that up to 46% of U.S. public and private schools now in use were constructed between 1958 and 1971, making them at risk for containing PCBs in their building materials.

Inspection and testing are available to determine if PCBs are present in building materials and indoor air. The collection of a thorough sample selection during testing is important because PCBs in caulking, mastics, paints and other coatings can easily migrate several inches deep into the surrounding building materials. Soil sampling is often also necessary because PCBs can migrate to the ground from outdoor sealants and exterior caulks and paints.

In its 2013 white paper on PCBs, the AIHA wrote, “Industrial hygienists are uniquely qualified to assist in the evaluation of this emerging issue and can apply the principles of industrial hygiene (i.e., anticipation, recognition, evaluation, control and confirmation) to PCBs in the built environment in order to reduce potential health risks for building occupants, maintenance staff and construction workers.”

Should you require a site-specific assessment and/or remediation guidelines for PCBs, G2’s experienced and qualified team uses safe work practices to minimize any potential PCB exposure during the sampling process.

We typically include an evaluation of PCBs as part of our Regulated Building Materials Assessment. Other hazards we assess include asbestos, lead-based paint, and mercury-containing products. We are happy to assist you with these as stand-alone services or as part of any combination of a turnkey approach.

AIHA’s new PCB guidance document, along with many other industry standard guidance materials, can be found at the AIHA website (