What Standards and Regulations Exist for PCB Exposure?
Upon completion of this section, you will be able to
- Describe EPA’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PCBs in drinking water.
- Describe FDA’s tolerance levels for PCBs in food.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s permissible exposure limit (PEL) is a time-weighted average (TWA) airborne concentration of 1.0 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3) for PCBs containing 42% chlorine (average molecular formula of C12H7Cl3). The PEL for PCBs with 54% chlorine and an average molecular formula of C12H5Cl5 is 0.5 mg/m3 (OSHA 1998a).
Both standards encompass all physical forms of these compounds:
- Sprays, and
- PCB-laden dust particles.
OSHA recognizes that PCBs can be absorbed through intact skin; therefore, both dermal and inhalation exposure routes should be evaluated by an industrial hygienist.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)FDA recommends a 10-hour TWA of 1.0 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) based on the minimum reliable detectable concentration and the potential carcinogenicity of PCBs [NIOSH 2005].
NIOSH also recommends that all workplace exposures be reduced to the lowest feasible level.
EPA considers PCBs a probable human carcinogen and prohibits industrial discharges under the Clean Water Act Effluent Guidelines.
EPA’s goal for drinking water’s maximum contaminant level is zero, and the enforceable MCL for PCBs in public water systems is 0.0005ppm [EPA 2001].EPA requires that PCB spills or accidental releases into the environment of 1 pound or more be reported to EPA [ATSDR 2000].
FDA mandates tolerances of 0.2-3.0 ppm PCBs for all foods, with a tolerance level in fish of 2 ppm. FDA also limits PCBs in paper food-packaging materials to 10 ppm [FDA 1996c].
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) allow a daily PCB intake of 6 µg/kg per day [AAP 2003].
|1.0 mg/m3 for PCBs with 42% Cl
0.5 mg/m3 for PCBs with 54% Cl
|Enforceable; TWA*, PELa
Both standards encompass all physical forms of aerosols, vapor, mist, sprays, and PCB-laden dust particles.
|1.0 µg/m3||Advisory; TWA
|0.0005 ppm||Enforceable MCLb|
|0.2-3.0 ppm (all foods)
2.0 ppm (fish)
10 ppm (paper food-packaging materials)
|Enforceable; Tolerance level|
|6.0 µg/kg per day||Allowable daily intake|
*TWA (time-weighted average): TWA concentration for a normal workday and a 40-hour workweek to which nearly all workers may be repeatedly exposed
a PEL (permissible exposure limit): highest level of PCBs in air to which a worker may be exposed, averaged over an 8-hour workday
b MCL (maximum contaminant level): enforceable level for drinking water
µg/kg: microgram per kilogram
µg/m3: microgram per cubic meter
ppm: parts per million