Ecological and toxicological aspects of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the environment are reviewed with emphasis on biologically active congeners and fish and wildlife. Subtopics include sources and uses, chemical and biochemical properties, concentrations in field collections, lethal and sublethal effects, and recommendations for the protection of sensitive resources. All production of PCBs in the United States ceased in 1977. Of the 1.2 million tons of PCBs manufactured to date, about 65% are still in use in electrical equipment and 31% in various environmental compartments, and 4% were degraded or incinerated. The 209 PCB congeners and their metabolites show wide differences in biological effects. A significant part of the toxicity associated with commercial PCB mixtures is related to the presence of about 20 planar congeners, i.e., congeners without chlorine substitution in the ortho position. Toxic planar congeners, like other PCB congeners, have been detected in virtually all analyzed samples, regardless of collection locale. Planar PCB concentrations were usually highest in samples from near urban areas and in fat and liver tissues, filter-feeding bivalve mollusks, fish-eating birds, and carnivorous marine mammals. Adverse effects of planar PCBs on growth, survival, and reproduction are highly variable because of numerous biotic and abiotic modifiers, including interaction with other chemicals. In general, embryos and juveniles were the most sensitive stages tested to planar PCBs, and the chinook salmon, domestic chicken, mink, rhesus macaque, and laboratory white rat were among the most sensitive species. for protection of natural resources, most authorities now recommend (1) analyzation of environmental samples for planar and other potentially hazardous congeners; (2) exposure studies with representative species and specific congeners, alone and in combination with other environmental contaminants; (3) clarification of existing structure-induction-metabolism relations; and (4) more research on physiological and biochemical indicators of PCB-stress.
Additional publication details
Planar PCB Hazards to Fish, Wildlife, and Invertebrates: A Synoptic Review
Contaminant Hazard Reviews
U.S. Department of the Interior, National Biological Service