Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a class of organic compounds with 1 to 10 chlorine atoms attached to biphenyl.
Although the physical and chemical properties vary widely across the class, PCBs have low water solubilities and low vapor pressures.
They are soluble in most organic solvents, oils, and fats.
PCBs are very stable compounds and do not degrade readily.
The extent to which PCBs are toxic remains controversial.
Concern over the toxicity and persistence (chemical stability) of PCBs in the environment led the United States Congress to ban their domestic production in 1977, although some use continues in closed systems such as capacitors and transformers.
PCBs are persistent organic pollutants and have entered the environment through both use and disposal.
The environmental transport of PCBs is complex and global.
The public, legal, and scientific concerns about PCBs arose from research indicating they were likely carcinogens having the potential to adversely impact the environment and therefore undesirable as commercial products.
Despite active research spanning five decades, extensive regulatory actions, and an effective ban on their production since the 1970s, PCBs still persist in the environment and remain a focus of attention.
The most commonly observed health effects in people exposed to large amounts of PCBs are skin conditions such as chloracne and rashes.
Studies in exposed workers have shown changes in blood and urine that may indicate liver damage.