Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of man-made chemicals that were used in industrial and commercial settings for their properties as electrical insulators. Their use was banned in 1979 but products containing them may still be in use. Despite this ban, there are several ways PCBs are still released into the environment today: through poorly maintained hazardous waste sites containing PCBs; leaks from electrical equipment; and accidental or deliberate dumping of PCB waste into sites not capable of handling them.

PCB release is a problem because the EPA classifies PCBs as probable human carcinogens, meaning there is a likely association between exposure to PCBs and cancer, including melanoma, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, breast cancer and liver cancer. Exposure to PCBs also has non-cancer health effects including immune system suppression, deficits in learning and neurological development, and reproductive system effects such as decreased birth weight and birth defects.

The residents of Minden, WV know about the release of PCBs all too well. The company Shaffer Equipment used PCBs in building electrical substations for the local coal mining industry. In storing and disposing of equipment, they poured PCB-containing liquid onto the ground, stored fluid in waste containers that later leaked, and even sprayed PCB oils on roads to combat dust. The EPA found that Shaffer also dumped contaminated equipment and oil into abandoned mines, and while they removed some contaminated soil and recommended constructing a cap over the site, cleanup was never completed and PCB-contaminated oil is still present there.

The effects have been devastating for the people of Minden – it’s a town of under 300 people, and a local physician has verified over 100 cases of cancer among current and former residents. Recently, residents got the EPA to test for PCB contamination throughout the town, but the community isn’t stopping there. They have a list of demands that includes having their homes bought out; lifetime health monitoring; and a PCB health clinic. CHEJ is working with these residents, helping them with information about PCBs and their fight for a safe and healthy community.


Learn about more toxics