U.S. EPA Contaminated Site Cleanup Information (CLU-IN)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. EPA Technology Innovation and Field Services Division

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)


PCBs were produced commercially in the United States between 1929 and 1977. Approximately 99% of the PCBs used by U.S. industries were produced and marketed under the trade name of Aroclor. The Aroclors were labeled and sold according to the percent chlorination they contained—e.g., Aroclor 1221 was 21 percent chlorinated by weight and Aroclor 1260 was 60 percent chlorinated by weight. The exception to this rule is Aroclor 1016 which is approximately 40% and corresponds to Aroclor 1242. Prior to 1974, PCBs were used for capacitors, transformers, heat transfer, and hydraulic fluids such as those for gas transmission turbines (nominally closed applications), and in flame retardants, inks, adhesives, microencapsulation of dyes for carbonless duplicating paper, paints, pesticide extenders, plasticizers, polyolefin catalyst carriers, slide-mounting mediums for microscopes, surface coatings, wire insulators, and metal coatings (open-end applications). Production of PCBs in the United States from 1930 to 1985 is estimated at a cumulative 1,400,000,000 pounds.

PCBs have been identified in at least 500 of 1,598 hazardous waste sites proposed for inclusion on the EPA National Priorities List. These sites often contain highly concentrated levels of PCBs in spill release areas, as well as widespread contamination through transport along waterways, such as the Hudson River. Before being banned and before the Clean Water Act regulated wastewater discharges, PCBs could be found, often at high levels, in wastewaters from industries handling PCB equipment, from transformer and capacitor production, and from manufacture of carbonless copy papers, and pulp and paper mill effluents. These wastewaters either were discharged directly to surface waters or sent to municipal sewage treatment plants; consequently, the sediments of the receiving waters and downstream sinks (such as harbors) where these waters discharged are likely to be contaminated with PCBs. Urban industrial areas are more likely to have higher PCB contamination than rural areas. While not highly volatile, PCBs, especially the less chlorinated ones, will partition into the air. Atmospheric transport is the most important mechanism for the global dispersion of PCBs. Biphenyls with 0 to 1 chlorine atoms remain in the atmosphere; those with 1 to 4 chlorines gradually migrate toward polar latitudes in a series of volatilization/deposition cycles; those with 4 to 8 chlorines remain in mid-latitudes; and those with 8 to 9 chlorines remain close to the source of contamination. Polar ice where there has never been any industrial activity can contain trace levels of PCBs.

Information regarding levels of PCBs in specific geographic locations or water bodies may be available in a monitoring or characterization report. The Library of the U.S. Geological Survey provides links to several databases in which such reports can be located.

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Chapter 4: Assessment of Transboundary Transport of Polychlorinated Biphenyls, Assessment of POP Transport and Accumulation in the Environment.
Shatalov, V. et al., Meteorological Synthesizing Centre-East.
EMEP Report 4/200, p 67-88, 2001.

This link takes the reader to a list of abstracts of publications. The full text report is available upon request.

Adobe PDF LogoDioxins & PCBs: Environmental Levels and Human Exposure in Candidate Countries
European Commission, Brussels, ENV.C.2/SER/2002/0085, 333 pp, 2004

Adobe PDF LogoLaboratory Study of Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) Contamination and Mitigation in Buildings, Part 1: Emissions from Selected Primary Sources
Guo, Z., X. Liu, K.A. Krebs, R.A. Stinson, J.A. Nardin, R.H. Pope, and N.F. Roache.
EPA 600-R-11-156, 127 pp, 2011

This report summarizes the test results for PCB emissions from primary indoor sources, with emphasis on PCB-containing caulking materials and light ballasts, and factors that can affect the emissions.

The Ortho Side of PCBs: Occurrence and Disposition
Hansen, L.G.
Kluwer Academic, ISBN: 0792385411, 269 pp, 1999.

The 2006 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Public Data Release Report
U.S. EPA, Toxic Release Inventory Program.

Adobe PDF LogoPilot Survey of Levels of Polychlorinated Dibenzo-p-Dioxins, Polychlorinated Dibenzofurans, Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Mercury in Rural Soils of the United States
U.S. EPA, National Center for Environmental Assessment, Washington, DC. EPA 600-R-05-043F, 308 pp, 2007

Soil samples discussed in this report were collected in 2003 at 27 monitoring stations located in remote areas across the continental United States and Alaska. The provide the basis for a study of air/soil relationships by comparison of historical air concentration data with the new soil data. The limited sampling results should not be interpreted as statistically representative of all rural soils in the United States; however, these results might provide a plausible basis for a preliminary characterization of soils in rural/remote areas.

Adobe PDF LogoPotential for Human Exposure
Toxicological Profile for Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Chapter 6, 2000.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Adobe PDF LogoWhite Paper on PCBs in the Built Environment
American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), 57 pp, 2013

PCBs can emanate in both vapor and particulate form from PCB-containing products in building environments, including secondary PCB sources such as caulk or light ballasts. Building owners and occupants may be unaware of the existence of these materials and their potential hazards. This white paper 1) provides an overview of currently available information pertaining to PCBs in construction materials; 2) evaluates the exposure potential for building occupants and maintenance and construction personnel; and 3) identifies gaps in current knowledge concerning public health risk from PCBs in building materials.


Adobe PDF Logo2006 Annual Fish and Shellfish Report
Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Environmental Quality Department.
ENQUAD 2007-06, 200 pp, 2007.

Adobe PDF LogoFact Sheet: Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) Update: Impact on Fish Advisories
U.S. EPA, Office of Water.
EPA-823-F-99-019, 7 pp, 1999.

Adobe PDF LogoTrends in Concentrations of Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Fish Tissue from Selected Sites in the Delaware River Basin in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, 1969-98
Riva-Murray, K. U.S. Geological Survey.
USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4066, 20 pp, 2001.
Contact: Karen Murray,

Water-Quality Assessment of the Upper Mississippi River Basin, Minnesota and Wisconsin—Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Common Carp and Walleye Fillets, 1975-95
Lee, K. and J. Anderson, U.S. Geological Survey.
Water-Resources Investigations Report 98-4126, 1998.
Contact: Kathy Lee,


Areal Distribution and Concentrations of Contaminants of Concern in Surficial Streambed and Lakebed Sediments, Lake Erie-Lake Saint Clair Drainages, 1990-97
Rheaume, S. et al., U.S. Geological Survey.
USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4200, 70 pp, 2000.
Contact: Stephen Rheaume,

Adobe PDF LogoEvaluation of Polychlorinated Biphenyl Contamination in the Saginaw River Using Sediments, Caged Fish and SPMDs
Echols, K., et al., U.S. Geological Survey.
USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 99-4018, 6 pp, 1999.
Contact: Kathy Echols,

Adobe PDF LogoSediment Characteristics and Configuration within Three Dam Impoundments on the Kalamazoo River, Michigan, 2000
Rheaume, S., et al., U.S. Geological Survey.
USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 02-4098, 58 pp, 2002.
Contact: Stephen Rheaume,

The Incidence and Severity of Sediment Contamination in Surface Waters of the United States (1997)

Adobe PDF LogoVolume 1: National Sediment Quality Survey
U.S. EPA, Office of Science and Technology.
EPA 823-R-97-006, 1997.

Adobe PDF LogoVolume 2: Data Summaries for Areas of Probable Concern
U.S. EPA, Office of Science and Technology.
EPA 823-R-97-007, 1997.

Adobe PDF LogoVolume 3: National Sediment Point Source Inventory
U.S. EPA, Office of Science and Technology.
EPA 823-R-97-008, 1997.

The Incidence and Severity of Sediment Contamination in Surface Waters of the United States (2004)

Adobe PDF LogoThe Incidence and Severity of Sediment Contamination in Surface Waters of the United States, 2nd Edition
U.S. EPA, Office of Science and Technology EPA-823-R-04-007, 2004

Surface Water

Adobe PDF LogoCodeployment of Passive Samplers and Mussels Reveals Major Source of Ongoing PCB Inputs to the Anacostia River in Washington, DC
Lombard, N.J., M. Bokare, R. Harrison, L. Yonkos, A. Pinkney, D. Murali, and U. Ghosh.
Environmental Science & Technology 57(3):1320-1331(2023)

Passive equilibrium samplers and freshwater mussels were codeployed as dual lines of evidence to identify ongoing sources of PCBs from eight main tributaries of the Anacostia River, historically polluted from industrial and human activities. Passive samplers measured freely dissolved PCB concentrations, which tracked well with the accumulation in mussels and allowed biouptake predictions within a factor of 2 for total PCBs and a factor of 4 for most congeners. One tributary was identified as the primary source of PCBs to the water column and became a focus of additional ongoing investigations. Codeployment of passive samplers and mussels provides strong lines of evidence to refine site conceptual models and identify ongoing sources critical to control to achieve river water quality standards and reduce bioaccumulation in the aquatic food web. Supporting information Adobe PDF Logo

Contaminants in the Mississippi River
Meade, R. (ed.), U.S. Geological Survey.
USGS Circular 1133, 1995.

Source Identification and Fish Exposure for Polychlorinated Biphenyls Using Congener Analysis from Passive Water Samplers in the Millers River Basin, Massachusetts
Colman, J.A., U.S. Geological Survey.
USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4250, 47 pp, 2000.
Contact: John Colman,

Adobe PDF LogoWater Quality in the Lake Erie-Lake Saint Clair Drainages Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, New York and Pennsylvania, 1996-98
Myers, D., et al., U.S. Geological Survey.
USGS Water Resources Circular 1203, 43 pp, 2000.
Contact: Donna Myers,

Adobe PDF LogoWater Quality in the Upper Tennessee River Basin, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia 1994-98
Hampson, P., et al., U.S. Geological Survey.
Water Resources Circular 1205, 40 pp, 2000.
Contact: Paul Hampson,