A toxic chemical banned in the 1970s may have found its way back into our everyday lives. According to a new study from Rutgers University, the chemical, PCB-11, is found in the dye used to make yellow products such as clothing, magazines, plastic bags, napkins and more.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, have been linked to cancer and have been shown to cause serious effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems as well as other health effects.
PCBs are man-made chemicals that were banned by the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1979. Yet a loophole in the law allows PCBs to be present in consumer goods at low levels because lawmakers realized that it would be difficult to regulate the inadvertent production of PBCs, ABC News reports.
Prior to being banned, PCBs were entering the environment where they remained for long periods of time “cycling between air, water, and soil,” according to the EPA. PCBs can accumulate in plants and food crops and are taken in by small organisms and fish. According to a report in Environmental Health News:
PCB-11 was detected in nearly all samples of paper products sold in 26 countries and clothing sold in the United States. The findings shed some light on how the chemical, tied to yellow dyes, inks and paints, is finding its way into people’s blood, the air and waterways.
“It’s out there in levels that are worrisome,” said Lisa Rodenburg, a senior author of the study and an associate professor of environmental chemistry at Rutgers. “Even at the parts per billion levels, if you find it in almost everything you test, that means people are in almost constant contact.”
According to a PCB-11 researcher at the University of Iowa, the chemical is “rapidly metabolized and excreted,” unlike older PCBs. Unfortunately, this suggests that people are constantly being exposed to the chemical if it is still showing up in blood tests. PCB-11 has also been detected in air samples and in US waterways.
“You can’t really avoid contact with every printed material in the world. The PCBs get out of that printed material and they get into the air, so whether you like it or not everyone is breathing this stuff in,” Rodenburg said in an interview with Good Morning America.
“I don’t think that people should be terrified of this, but I think it is important to be aware of what is going on and try to do something about it through the law,” she added.
Researchers believe they need to further study the toxicity of PCB-11 specifically. According to Rodenburg, the chemical is leaching into the air and water, so avoiding products colored yellow with dye won’t necessarily eliminate exposure to the toxin.
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.