Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are a widespread class of persistent organic chemicals that accumulate in the environment and humans and are associated with a broad spectrum of health effects. PCBs were widely used as dielectric fluids in transformers, capacitors, and coolants.
The processing and distribution of PCBs has been prohibited in almost all industrial countries due to their toxicity, however, they can still be released into the environment from paint as well as poorly maintained hazardous waste sites that contain PCBs. Most often, people are exposed to PCBs through contaminated food.
The European Food Safety Authority reports that several international agencies classify PCBs as probably carcinogenic to humans. Some PCBs have been shown to cause neurological, endocrine, immunological, and carcinogenic effects, according to the EFSA.
Between 1995 and 2008 a total of 11,214 food and 1,349 feed samples from 18 EU Member States were kept for a detailed analysis. Overall, 18.8 percent of the results for single toxic chemicals were below the limit of quantification.
According to the research, the highest levels of contamination were found in several fish and fish product categories followed by terrestrial animal products. The lowest levels were found in fruits and vegetables.
The EFSA indicated further study is needed, stating: “The current assessment includes results from both random and targeted monitoring but a clear separation of the two sampling groups was not possible. The lack of such sampling information and the irregular coverage of food and feed groups over time did not allow for an accurate time trend analysis to be performed. To improve the validity of any assessment of the presence of dioxins and PCBs in food and feed in Europe it is important to carry out random testing and separate reporting of a sufficient number of samples in each food and feed group. Targeted sampling during contamination incidences should be clearly indicated as such in the reporting.”