Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Status: National drinking water standard exists
PCBs are synthetic chemicals banned in the U.S. since the 1970s because of their toxicity. PCBs contaminate water by leaching from landfills and hazardous waste clean-up sites. PCBs increase the risk of cancer. Read More.
Up until the late 1970s, PCBs were used widely as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment. Currently, PCBs are widely detected in the general population. They build up and are stored in fatty tissues and fluids such as breast milk, and can be passed on to fetuses and infants during pregnancy and breast-feeding. In human epidemiological studies, PCBs have been associated with an elevated risk of breast and prostate cancers. Infants and children with higher PCB exposures during development score lower on measures of neurological function, ranging from decreased IQ scores to reduced hearing sensitivity. PCBs also affect hormones and damage the immune system.
Health concerns for PCBs
Harm to the brain and nervous system
Harm to the immune system
State and national drinking water standards and health guidelines
EWG Health Guideline 0.09 ppb
The EWG Health Guideline of 0.09 ppb for PCBs was defined by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as a public health goal, the level of a drinking water contaminant that does not pose a significant health risk. This health guideline protects against cancer.
EPA Maximum Contaminant
Level (MCL) 0.5 ppb
The legal limit for PCBs, established in 1991, was based on analytical detection limits at the time that the standard was set. This limit may not fully protect against the risk of cancer due to PCB exposure.
ppb = parts per billion
States reporting PCBs in drinking water
|UTILITIES REPORTING ABOVE HEALTH GUIDELINES||UTILITIES WITH CONTAMINATION|
|State||Utilities||People Served||Utilities||People Served|
Filtering technologies that reduce PCBs
Utilities with the highest amounts of PCBs, 2015-2017
|Utility||Location||Tests||Average level||People served|
|Sunny Pines||Jacksonville, FL||8 of 8||0.358 ppb||80|
|Elkins City Of*||Elkins, WV||1 of 3||0.244 ppb||9,473|
|Midland Psd||Elkins, WV||1 of 3||0.244 ppb||3,155|
|Leadsville Psd||Elkins, WV||1 of 3||0.244 ppb||1,539|
|Colonial Water Company||Dover, MA||1 of 1||0.230 ppb||1,809|
|City of Port St. Joe||Port St. Joe, FL||1 of 7||0.0529 ppb||12,806|
|Frostproof, City of||Frostproof, FL||2 of 6||0.0367 ppb||3,550|
|Mulberry, City of||Mulberry, FL||2 of 5||0.0300 ppb||3,780|
|Deming Municipal Water System||Deming, NM||2 of 19||0.0253 ppb||14,855|
|Fern Crest Utilities Inc.||Ft Lauderdale, FL||1 of 3||0.0250 ppb||4,643|
|Miramar (East & West) Plants||Miramar, FL||1 of 6||0.0128 ppb||128,729|
|South Broward Utility/sunrise||Fort Lauderdale, FL||1 of 3||0.00967 ppb||9,457|
* This water utility supplies finished drinking water to at least one other water utility. The purchasing utility is not required to test for or report Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), but it likely has the contaminant in its water supply.