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Not So Mellow Yellow: A Banned Chemical Lives On Due To Pigment Manufacturing
February 21, 2014
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A man crosses a street painted yellow in Brussels (Image: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

A chemical banned in Canada in 1977 because it was linked to cancer is still prevalent today, reports Environment Health News. A particular kind of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) that's tied to the production of yellow dyes, inks and paints has been found leaching from our paper products and clothing, according to a new, unpublished study conducted by scientists at Rutgers University and Boston College.

PCB-11, the particular kind of PCB that has been detected, is relatively easy for the human body to process and get rid of. That makes it less dangerous than the banned PCBs from the 1970s, which were found building up in humans, animals and the environment, with many adverse health effects. Beyond their tie to cancer, PCBs were also linked to reduced IQs and weakened immune systems. They can still be found in ocean and river sediments. The full effects of PCB-11 are still unclear because it hasn't been studied nearly as much. 

What is clear is that PCB-11 is ubiquitous in our environment. The new study detected the chemical in nearly all samples of paper products from 26 countries and in all clothing tested in the U.S., where PCBs were banned in 1979. Tests conducted in 2007 near Chicago elementary schools found PCB-11 in nearly all its air samples. 

"Even at the parts per billion levels, if you find it in almost everything you test, that means people are in almost constant contact," Rutgers University's Lisa Rodenburg, senior author of the study, told Environment Health News.

PCB-11 is a byproduct of pigment manufacturing, which is why it's so prevalent — and also why it's technically exempt from regulatory laws in the U.S. and Canada, where such "unintentional manufacturing" is permitted. According to Environmental Health Perspectives, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared its intentions to reassess its PCB regulations in 2010, at which point the Color Pigments Manufacturing Association, which represents companies in the United States, Canada and Mexico, wrote a letter to the agency arguing that expanded regulations would jeopardize most colour printing and create a competitive disadvantage for the U.S. industry.

Via The Scientific American

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