PCBs falsely accused of causing brain damage

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CBS 2 News reported yesterday that polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been found at “alarmingly high levels” in three New York City schools, falsely reporting the chemicals were banned three decades ago after being “proven to pose serious risks to children’s immune system and brain development.” PCBs were actually banned in 1979 because they were considered carcinogenic, but — as so often is the case — they were labeled “carcinogens” based only on studies of laboratory animals. Studies of workers exposed to PCBs on a regular basis later later proved that the chemical does not pose a cancer risk.

“This is one of the more irresponsible articles I’ve ever seen,” says ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “The claims that PCBs cause immune system and brain damage are completely false and fabricated. And these reporters are treating the presence of trace levels of PCBs as an emergency? Outrageous! CBS 2 News should be ashamed of themselves.”

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross adds, “Parents are now concerned—even panicky—that their children’s health might be at risk. In fact, the amounts of PCBs in the schools amount to minuscule levels posing no real risk. Remember what happened in the late 1980s when a similar panic developed over asbestos. Removing the asbestos actually did pose a health risk which, if it had remained undisturbed, would have never happened.”

For more information on PCBs, be sure to read Dr. Ross’ 2004 paper published in Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety.