Plasma polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) levels of workers in a transformer recycling company, their family members, and employees of surrounding companies.
ABSTRACT In spring 2010, high internal exposures (up to 236 μg/L plasma) for the sum of indicator polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) were discovered in workers in a transformer recycling company in Germany, where PCB-contaminated material was not handled according to proper occupational hygiene. The release of PCB from this company raised growing concerns regarding possible adverse human health effects correlated with this exposure. This provided a basis for a large biological monitoring study in order to examine the internal exposure to PCB in individuals working in that recycling company, their family members, and relatives, as well as subjects working or living in the surroundings of this company. Blood samples from 116 individuals (formerly) employed in the transformer recycling company and 45 direct relatives of these persons were obtained. Further, blood samples of 190 subjects working in close vicinity of the recycling plant, 277 persons working in the larger area, and 41 residents of the area were investigated. Plasma samples were analyzed for the 6 indicator PCB (PCB 28, 52, 101, 138, 153, 180) and 12 dioxin-like PCB using gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy (GC/MS; limit of detection [LOD] at 0.01 μg/L). Median concentrations (maximum) for the sum of the 6 indicator PCB in blood of the employees, their relatives, individuals working in close vicinity, persons working in the larger area, and the residents were 3.68 (236.3), 1.86 (22.8), 1.34 (22.9), 1.19 (6.42), and 0.85 (7.22) μg/L plasma, respectively. The (former) employees of the transformer recycling plant partly showed the highest plasma PCB levels determined thus far in Germany. Even family members displayed highly elevated levels of PCB in blood due to contaminations of their homes by laundering of contaminated clothes. Vicinity to the recycling plant including reported contact with possibly contaminated scrap was the main contributor to the PCB levels of the workers of the surrounding companies. Residents of the area did not show significantly elevated blood PCB levels compared to the general population. Our biomonitoring results served as a basis for individual risk communication and successful risk management.