Aroclor 1248: Taking A Shower Can Damage Your Health

What is Aroclor 1248?

Aroclor 1248 is a mixture of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) with an average chlorine content of 48%.

All PCB’s are man-made and have a similar basic structure. They are made of carbon, hydrogen and chlorine atoms.

In rivers and lakes, PCB’s attach to sediments where they can remain buried for a long time before being eventually released into water and air.

PCB’s in the air can reach the ground with falling rain and snow, or simply when suspended particles settle with gravity.

They were first manufactured commercially by the Anniston Ordnance Company, in Anniston, Alabama.  The Anniston company was founded in 1915, when Theodore Swann began to manufacture six-inch explosive shell cases for the U.S. Army.

Anniston was purchased in 1935 by the Monsanto Industrial Chemical Company of St. Louis, Missouri. Monsanto produced PCB’s at plants in Sauget, Illinois and Anniston, Alabama (until 1977.)

PCB’s were also produced in other countries including Italy (Caffaro), France, UK, Japan (Kanegafuchi Chemical Co.), Germany (Bayer), and in Russia. As electricity came into widespread use during the first half of this century, equipment suppliers like General Electric (GE) and Westinghouse became major users of PCB’s.

They were widely used for many applications, especially as heat-transfer agents, electrical insulators and coolants. Since 1929, around 2 million tonnes have been produced. Annual U.S. production peaked in 1970, with 85 million pounds of PCB’s being produced. (1)

That’s an awful lot chlorine atoms.

Why the concern?

In the U.S., the Environment  Protection Agency (EPA) developed the Waste Minimization Prioritization Tool (WMPT) to help guide the national effort to reduce the quantity and toxicity of hazardous wastes.

Aroclor 1248  is ranked as one of the most hazardous compounds to ecosystems.(2)

Health officials are concerned with chlorinating by-products, also known as “chlorinated hydrocarbons” or trihalomethanes (THM’s).  Most THM’s are formed in water when chlorine reacts with naturally occurring substances, such as decomposing plant and animal materials.

Drinking water concern

Risk for certain types of cancer are now being correlated to the consumption of chlorinated drinking water. The general population can sometimes be exposed to low levels of PCB’s in drinking water. (3)

The President’s Council on Environmental Quality states;

there is increased evidence for an association between rectal, colon and bladder cancer and the consumption of chlorinated drinking water.

Suspected carcinogens make the human body more vulnerable through repeated ingestion, and research indicates the incidence.

In 1969, the New Scientist published a report revealing the capacity of PCB’s to ‘bio accumulate along the food chain.’

The chemicals, which take many years to biodegrade, pass easily through the lipid portions of cell membranes. The highest concentrations of PCB’s are usually found in the liver, fatty tissue, brain, and skin. They are also present in the blood. In mothers, PCB’s have been found to pass into umbilical cord blood, the placenta and breast milk.

Do PCB’s effect fetal development?

A research paper in 2003 by the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research, Polish Academy of Sciences, Olsztyn-Kortowo, looked at the effect of Aroclor-1248 on the impairment of the corpus luteum (CL) function in bovine. The CL is essential for establishing, and maintaining pregnancy in females.

The CL is formed from the cells of ovarian follicle following its ovulation, and is required for the duration of normal pregnancy in mammals. The main function of CL is synthesis and secretion of progesterone, which is necessary for implantation of the blastocyst and further pregnancy development.

In cows, around 30–40% of embryonic losses occur by day 17 of pregnancy and this depends on many factors (Thatcher et al., 1994).  The researchers  looked to see if Aroclor-1248 may play a role.

They concluded that the mixture of PCB’s commercially available as Aroclor-1248, can directly impair the function of bovine CL in turn influencing the estrous cycle duration or embryo development.

What about humans?

In 1968, 1,300 residents of Kyushu, Japan, fell ill after eating rice-bran oil (yusho) contaminated with PCB fluids. Many showed immediate symptoms including severe chloracne, respiratory ailments, and failing vision.

Two out of twelve children were stillborn and nearly all of the babies showed signs of PCB diseases. Since then, more than 50 people have died; many with internal tumors and irregular lymph nodes and livers. Subsequent studies published in leading medical journals showed that PCB’s cause a statistically significant increase in lung cancer, and damage to the immune system, reproductive system, nervous and endocrine system.

It was from the ‘Yusho Incident’ that scientists documented birth defects, low birth weights, and numerous other chronic effects from PCB exposure. Nine years later, there was a sixfold increase in liver-cancer deaths among affected men, and threefold among women. Ultimately, researchers found liver cancers at 15 times the normal rate.

In 1995, it was revealed that women who had eaten fish from the contaminated waters of the Great Lakes, Canada, gave birth to children with an unusually high susceptibility to bacterial infection. PCB’s were also shown to damage nerves in the brains of developing mammalian fetuses, leading to behavioral and learning defects.

So, if the dangers of PCB’s have long been known, what action has the government taken?

In 1976,  Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act which outlawed the manufacture, sale, and distribution of PCB’s except in ‘totally enclosed’ systems. It was the only chemical Congress itself has ever banned. However, enclosed transformers and capacitors were still allowed to contain PCB’s.

In 1979, the EPA issued final regulations banning the manufacture of PCB’s after a 3-year phase-out period. In addition, the EPA rules gradually ended many industrial uses of PCB’s over the next five years, but still allowed their continued use in existing enclosed electrical equipment under controlled conditions.

That was 30 years ago.

What’s the problem now? With the known dangers, surely they have been taken out of circulation?

Well, recent reports and research have found that despite clean up attempts, the problem is still with us.

Researchers from the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research in Spain, the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany, and the University of Concepcion in Chile, have identified the presence of high levels of PCB’s on mountain ranges all over North and South America. Although banned worldwide since 2001, they are being found at the highest levels in many of the tallest mountain ranges.

Published in the journal Environmental Chemistry Letters, the discovery coincides with a similar study conducted by Swiss scientists, that found other pollutants in Alpine glacial lakes that affect drinking water supplies. The PCB’s found on mountaintops may eventually make their way down the mountains and pollute fields, crops, and water supplies. Some scientists fear that such contamination is already taking place in certain areas.

Revelations have also shown that PCB’s have actually been condensing at the Earth’s poles, where there is no industrial activity to speak of.  The North Pole, because of the intensity of industrial activity in the Northern hemisphere, has been the most badly affected.

In 1998, for example, ringed seals from Arctic Norway were found to contain five times more PCB’s than seals from the Canadian Arctic. For the last three years, the Norwegian Polar Institute has been finding polar bears with both male and female sexual organs. This year, four hermaphroditic cubs have been seen – the highest tally so far – and researchers fear that up to four per cent of the bears may be affected. The Norwegian Special Adviser on polar affairs has pointed out the findings’ implications for other life forms, including humans:

“The polar bear, like us, is at the top of the food chain. We are very concerned.” (4)

In the U.S., state biologists will start testing fish at a South Carolina lake next year for the suspected cancer-causing pollutant. The State newspaper of Columbia reports data released last month by the EPA shows Lake Wateree was among 17 percent of lakes tested nationwide with elevated PCB levels in fish.

Federal data collected in 2001 found the pollutant in largemouth bass at Lake Wateree at more than six times the federal health safety standard. EPA officials caution the sampling was limited. The state’s health and environmental agency has not routinely tested the lake’s fish since 2001.

Why not?

Is it because the official site of North Carolina state parks website gives the following description of Lake Wateree?…..

The lake is truly a fisherman’s delight with significant populations of crappie, bream, largemouth bass, catfish and striped bass.”

The park does not lack in camping space either with 72 sites, including many that accommodate large RV’s and all with water and electrical service. These sites go quickly in the summer months, ‘so visitors should plan ahead’…

“Visitors at Lake Wateree can also enjoy the picnic tables, playground….”

Warnings including ‘don’t bathe’ or ‘don’t eat the fish’ were not included on the website.

Maybe they are displayed in the park area?

The people of Wales, U.K. had no warning either.

Chemical company Monsanto dumped thousands of tonnes of toxic waste in an un-lined Welsh landfill site at Brofiscin, the newspaper The Guardian, revealed. It emerged that the groundwater has been polluted since the 1970′s, and that the drums holding the toxic waste are expected to corrode further. (5)

Villagers are angry that they were not told the exact condition or contents of the tip.

“We do not know about this report. If there is still leakage and there is any danger, then it must be cleared up as soon as possible,” said local councilor, Jonathan Huish.

Douglas Gowan, the pollution consultant who first investigated the site between 1967 and 1973 for the National Farmers’ Union, after reports of dead cattle and deformed calves in the vicinity, is one of the few people to have witnessed the land filling of chemicals at Brofiscin.

In 1967, he convened a team of toxicologists and engineers and took soil and water samples for analysis. His reports were sent to the Welsh Office but not acted upon. In a report requested by the Environment Agency of Wales (EAW), he states:

From 1969 to 1973 [we] actively monitored the site and witnessed not just landfill tipping in regular hours, but also dumping at night. Most of the waste came from Monsanto and I believe that almost all contained some amounts of PCB’s. I saw … vehicles dumping slurry, liquids and tars as well as … open drums.”

For his troubles Gowan, the only eyewitness to the events at Brofiscin Quarry, was ‘sacked’ as a witness by EAW director Viscount Chris Mills. He has also had legal papers served on him threatening legal action should he continue to criticize the Environment Agency or its staff in either Wales or England.

However, there is no need to worry because all investigations by the environmental agency, which is responsible to the Secretary of State for Environment, to date, have confirmed that there is no identifiable harm or immediate danger to human health. And to reassure locals, studies, which began in autumn 2008, are ongoing and are planned to take place over a three-year period.

Any other citizens in close proximity of PCB’s who need not worry about health concerns?

On Jan 10, 2010, it was reported that the University of Iowa researchers have confirmed that sediments of the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal (IHSC) in East Chicago, Ind., are contaminated with PCB’s.

The IHSC, part of the Calumet River tributary of Lake Michigan, will begin being dredged in the next few years to maintain the proper depth for ship traffic, with uncertain environmental impacts in regard to the PCB’s. Scientists aren’t sure whether dredging will help the situation by removing the potentially harmful compounds, or hurt it by stirring them up.

Employing tandem mass spectrometry, an analytical technique to determine the elemental composition of a sample or molecule, the UI researchers found high levels. The origin of the PCB’s is unknown, but they strongly resemble Aroclor 1248, a potentially toxic compound that may pose direct health hazards to humans.

The presence of PCB’s is important because dredging will impact the fate and transport of chemicals,” said Keri Hornbuckle, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the UI College of Engineering and corresponding author of the study, published in the journal Environment International.

It is quite possible that dredging will provide a major improvement in the situation. It may remove PCB’s that are available to fish and other wildlife, and reduce the release of PCB’s from the sediments,” she said. “On the other hand, dredging might increase the availability and mobility of PCB’s. Now that we know PCB’s are present, these questions are pertinent.

The Army Corps of Engineers reported that PCB’s have existed in IHSC sediment since 1977, but has not yet published a full report.

There you have it. Further evidence of the public being kept in the dark. All of which leads us to ask;

Is there any advice citizens can adhere to?

You can heed the warnings of the American Chemical Society;

“Taking long hot showers is a health risk.”

According to research presented in Anaheim, California, at a meeting of the American Chemical Society; showers – and to a lesser extent baths – lead to a greater exposure to toxic chemicals contained in water supplies than does drinking the water.

“The chemicals evaporate out of the water and are inhaled. They can also spread through the house and be inhaled by others. House holders can receive 6 to 100 times more of the chemical by breathing the air around showers and baths than they would by drinking the water.”

Pretty scary stuff.

So who’s at fault here? The companies whose products could pose a health risk?

Not according to Phil Angell, former Director of Corporate Communications at Monsanto, who when questioned about the safety of one its products stated;

”Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the F.D.A.’s job.” (6)

The problem with that assurance, as an article in the Ecologist highlights, is the fact that over the years, key government figures at the FDA and other regulatory bodies, have either come from, or gone on to, hold senior positions at, you’ve guessed it, Monsanto.

Former Monsanto employees currently hold positions in U.S. government agencies such as the FDA and the EPA.

Public officials formerly employed by Monsanto:

  • Michael R. Taylor was an assistant to the FDA commissioner before he left to work for a law firm on gaining FDA approval of Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone in the 1980′s. Taylor then became deputy commissioner of the FDA from 1991 to 1994. Taylor was later re-appointed to the FDA in August 2009 by President Barack Obama.
  • Dr. Michael A. Friedman was a deputy commissioner of the FDA before he was hired as a senior vice president of Monsanto.
  • Linda J. Fisher was an assistant administrator at the EPA before she was a vice president at Monsanto from 1995 – 2000. In 2001, Fisher became the deputy administrator of the EPA.

If these folks were to take a daily dip in the contaminated waterways  and consume its fish on a regular basis, we may then be assured of our safety.

But at the end of the day, one cannot blame Monsanto. We live in a business orientated society that is based on profit, so it is only using tools available that enable it to maintain a profit for its investors, including leading financial organizations such as J.P. Morgan.

J.P. Morgan is the direct predecessor of two of the largest banking institutions in the United States and globally – JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley. And it was founder, John Pierpont Morgan, who in 1892 arranged the merger of Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston Electric Company, to form General Electric.

And where would we be without our present, sound financial system?  (see latest news below)


Help maintain ‘Heroin and Cornflakes’ by donating.

Your donation keeps us free of ads, and helps us continue to raise awareness on environmental, social and health issues.

Thank you

Ann Margrain

Founder, ‘Heroin and Cornflakes’ blog.


Latest news…

Bankers ‘destroyed economic eco-system’

Jan 20 2010 Liverpool Daily Post

FINANCIAL ecologist Leo Johnson branded the West as having a “carbon beer belly” at a Liverpool breakfast meeting.

“We need to beat up the bankers,” he joked to appreciative delegates at the first City Leaders’ Breakfast, at Liverpool Cathedral.

“They have destroyed the eco-system of the economy.”

Johnson’s talk, called Green Regeneration – is it a pipe dream? gave food for thought as delegates consumed their full English breakfasts in the Cathedral’s Western Rooms.

“Banks are instruments of change, just like a poker,” said Johnson, a partner in PriceWaterhouseCooper’s sustainability and climate change advisory section.

“Their economic point is to discharge capital, but they have got it wrong because of misplaced values. Citigroup allocates around six trillion pounds a day – and it’s just a small bank.

“We’re at an extraordinary moment in our economic history, this is a time of great challenge.

“There was a ray of hope that the banking system would change, but has the window of opportunity gone? Is there a chance to do something different?

“It’s as if there has been a car crash, only for the bankers to get out of the car and, instead of changing, got back into the car and tried to revive it with our money.

“Although I come from a position of despair, I am a sustainability practitioner and I believe it’s possible to do it differently.”

Although the Copenhagen conference on climate change achieved “zilch”, he believes good things are happening.

He said: “Nikolas Sarkozy, famous for being married to Carla Bruni, but is also president of France, worked with President Obama to get rid of the $340bn fossil fuel subsidy to oil companies,” he said.

“This is a move in the right direction. The biggest driver of our well-being is tax, which must be put back into the economy.” Johnson, 42, whose brother, Boris, is Mayor of London, was co-founder of Sustainable Finance, which he sold to PWC.

He worked for the World Bank in Washington and as a teacher in the Far East, later gaining a Masters degree in environmental economics.

The City Leaders’ Breakfast was the first such joint event by Liverpool Cathedral, Liverpool RC Metropolitan Cathedral and Liverpool Parish Church of Our Lady & St Nicholas.

Schools get PCB ‘detox’


Last Updated: 2:07 PM, January 20, 2010

The city and the Environmental Protection Agency have announced a pilot program to address the problem of potentially harmful PCBs in some schools’ construction materials.

According to the EPA, hundreds of schools across the United States have caulk around windows and doors that contain the environmental pollutant.

Under the agreement announced yesterday, the city will conduct a pilot program in five schools to determine the best way to minimize exposure to PCB-contaminated caulk.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are chemicals that were widely used in construction and electrical materials before they were banned in the late-1970s.

PCBs can hurt the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems and can cause cancer if they build up in the body over long periods of time.

An EPA spokeswoman said New York was selected for the pilot program because the school system is well equipped to collect the data, and parents and elected officials have raised the issue.

36 comments for “Aroclor 1248: Taking A Shower Can Damage Your Health

  1. January 20, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Back in the 1980s I worked in a small woodshop in the western New York village of Wellsville, NY right on top of what was later determined to be the Sinclair Oil Refinery Dumpsite. Back in the 1950s(??) waste chemical were improperly stored (interred, buried, -choose your favorite word) in unstable containers, which eventually leached.

    The chemical included PCBs, contaminated oil, Enrin (an insecticide) and other materials. This site has the notoriety of being the second worst dump-site in New York state (and Love Canal, Niagara Falls, NY) and the seventh worst dump-site in America.
    It was slated for Reagan’s ‘Superfund’ cleanup money.
    The solution as I understand it, was to ‘containerize’ the site with a clay wall around the site, and extricate as much contaminated soil as possible. Apart from the toxins themselves, the main concern here was that this site was just a few hundred feet upstream from the main water intake system for the village, and that the chemicals themselves were at one time present in municipal water.

    The woodshop where I worked was bad enough. I worked with chemicals, paints and solvents and often had nosebleed and violent headaches. Mostly I just tolerated it, never made any connection between feeling tired all the time and the work conditions.
    I worked in a poorly ventilated basement and one time became so intoxicated by the fumes that I feel into a shallow vat of lacquer. I recall cleaning myself off, not at all worried or concerned. I have a vague recollection of going up to the second floor breakroom to get a Coke and sneak an unscheduled 10-minute break. I took my drink up to the roof (this is a four-storey building folks) where there were skylights in the center of the roof, with 2-foot high cement-brick walls that made good seatees. I was sitting on what I thought was a skylight, staring disinterestedly at a reddish brick down by me feet… as my head slowly cleared and vision sharepened I began to realize that the ‘brick’ was the boss’ CAR!! I was dangling my legs over the edge of a 4-storey building parkinglot!!
    I get back onto the roof, realizing that I had to leave that place. Sometimes I wonder if most of my aches and pains, my violent dreams and strange physical ailments aren’t somehow related to having worked over that site for nearly 3 years.
    I remember the back lot where the pallets were stored outside. Bone dry ground, no plants grew. Yet one could jump hard upon the ground and if you stood very still and concentrated, a minute or two later you could feel the ground beneath your feet recoil in aftershock! The ground was ‘floating’ on a lake of chemicals!!

    When last I visited this area, this old building is abandoned, closed and chain-link fence around it. The actual ‘sump well’ is chain-link fence protected too, with warning signs about trespassing. I am told by villagers to stay away from that site; it contains ground sensors that monitor for trespassers and video equipment and if anyone snoops around too long, authorities are alerted and may come to escort you off the site.

    I’m good with staying AWAY from that site.

  2. Paul { catdozer }
    January 21, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    How many timebombs have been left on this only earth we have? PCB’s are deadly but have been disposed in the INCORRECT manner,they are left for governments to clean this mess up if they have the money. Too many companies know the consequence of their actions but will not spend money to dispose of correctly.

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