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Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) exposure during building maintenance and demolition

What is the potential risk?

Older buildings undergoing maintenance or demolition may contain building materials that are made from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), putting workers who perform these activities at risk of illness. Exposure to PCBs has been associated with potential adverse health outcomes, including reproductive effects and an increased risk of some cancers.

PCBs are chemicals that were used in a variety of building products such as fluorescent lighting ballasts, cooling oil in transformers, caulking, grout, expansion joint material, and paint.

While PCBs are no longer typically used in the manufacture of these building products, they may be found in older buildings that were constructed when PCB products were still in use. PCB- containing products may release PCBs in the form of vapours or particulates as they deteriorate, which can be inhaled by workers.

There is growing scientific evidence showing that PCBs are released from building products in the form of vapours and particulates, putting workers at risk of exposure.

Workers who perform maintenance and demolition activities in older buildings that were constructed with PCB-containing products may be at increased risk of adverse health effects as the result of exposure.

What industries may be at risk?

  • Building demolition
  • House or other wood frame general contracting, construction or renovation work
  • Household or property maintenance (renovation or repair)
  • Renovation work (exterior industrial, commercial, institutional, or highrise residential)
  • Renovation work (interior)
  • Wood frame construction or renovation work

How can I reduce the risk in my workplace?

As an employer, you need to know if there is the potential for the risk identified in this advisory to be present in your workplace. It’s your responsibility to regularly inspect your workplace, and to ensure that your safety procedures and practices control the risk. The following information highlights some of the sections of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulation and Guidelines that are most relevant to this risk.

Section 20.112 of the OHS Regulation requires that an owner or employer ensure that hazardous materials are identified by a qualified person and safely removed before demolition begins. This section also requires that reports documenting the identified hazardous materials must be on site, as well as reports confirming that safe containment or removal of these hazardous materials has been completed.

Section 5.57 requires employers to develop an exposure control plan designed to maintain exposure as low as reasonably achievable below the occupational exposure limit. PCBs are IARC 2A carcinogens, which are considered designated substances.

Where can I find resources?

Publication Date: Jan 2015 Asset type: Risk Advisory Reference: RA 2015-27