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The occurrence and significance of polychlorinated biphenyls in the environment

Transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference

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Abstract

SUMMARY: Polychlorinated biphenyls constitute a group of chlorine-bearing compounds of industrial origin that have permeated the natural environment throughout the world. Their chemical structure resembles that of some of the organochlorine pesticides. They are troublesome interferences in gas chromatographic analysis of these pesticides. Although methods have been developed to overcome analytical problems, measurements of quantity still are only approximate. Special studies in the United States, Netherlands, and Great Britain have traced PCB's to industrial effluent, but other possible sources have not been followed. Their use in paints, cartons, and insulating fluids suggests that environmental pollution may be from many different sources. PCB's are present in fish and wildlife in many countries of the world. Quantities are higher in animals living near industrial areas. PCB's build up in biological food chains with increases of tens to thousands of times from lower to higher organisms. Experimental studies have shown that PCB's have a toxicity to mallards, pheasants, bobwhite quail, coturnix quail, red-winged blackbirds, starlings, cowbirds, and grackles that is of the same order as the toxicity of DDE to these species. Overt signs of poisoning also are similar to those caused by compounds of the DDT group. Toxic effects of DDE and Aroclor 1254 to coturnix chicks were additive, but not synergistic. PCB's containing higher percentages of chlorine are more toxic to birds than those containing lower percentages. PCB's of foreign manufacture contained contaminants to an extent that greatly increased their toxicity Aroclor 1242. Statistical evaluations of the role that different chemicals may play in thinning of eggshells of brown pelicans show that DDE residues correlate better with shell thinning than do residues of dieldrin or PCB's. Studies of the effects of PCB's in the environment are as yet insufficient for well-rounded conclusions. The evidence available indicates that they must be viewed as potential problems until fuller data can be assembled. Toxicity to insects of PCB's of different degrees of chlorination is the reverse of the pattern in birds: the lower chlorinations are more toxic to insects. PCB's enhanced the toxicity of dieldrin and DDT to insects. Shrimp are very sensitive to PCB's and most will die as a result of 20-day exposure to a concentration of 5 ppb. PCB's also inhibit shell growth of oysters. Fish and crabs are less sensitive; all accumulate residues to many times the concentrations in the water, and a test with crabs showed that they lost the residues very slowly. Residues of PCB's in the brains of birds killed by these compounds measure in the hundreds of parts per million. PCB's may have contributed to mortality of some birds in the field. PCB's induce microsomal enzyme activity in birds and mammals and the lower chlorinated mixtures have estrogenic activity in rats. Exposure to PCB's increased the susceptibility of mallard ducklings to duck hepatitis virus. Offspring of pheasants whose parents received high dosages of PCB's made poor choices in visual cliff tests. Egg production and hatching after pipping also were affected. Long-term studies of the reproductive effects of Aroclor 1254 on mallards and bobwhite quail and of Aroclor 1254 plus DDE on quail showed no significant differences from controls. In studies of chickens, however, egg production, hatchability, and shell thickness were impaired by high doses of Aroclor 1254 and by low doses of Aroclor 1242. Statistical evaluations of the role that different chemicals may play in thinning of eggshells of brown pelicans show that DDE residues correlate better with shell thinning than do residues of dieldrin or PCB's. Studies of the effects of PCB's in the environment are as yet insufficient for well-rounded conclusions. The evidence available indicates that they must be

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
The occurrence and significance of polychlorinated biphenyls in the environment
Series title:
Transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference
Volume
36
Year Published:
1971
Language:
English
Contributing office(s):
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Description:
118-131
Larger Work Type:
Article
Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
First page:
118
Last page:
131
Number of Pages:
14