UI Study Finds Cancer-Causing PCBs in Some Schools

Jun 28, 2017

University of Iowa researchers have found cancer-causing chemicals in some older Iowa schools.

Children may be exposed to airborne polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in schools built between 1950 and the mid-1970s. PCBs were banned in 1979.

Keri Hornbuckle, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa, says the researchers expected to find higher levels of airborne PCBs outside of schools.

"We were surprised to find that many schools have indoor concentrations of PCBs that are much higher than outside, suggesting that there are direct sources of these chemicals inside of schools," Hornbuckle says.

She says likely sources include old caulking around windows and fluorescent light fixtures. Replacing those materials can reduce the concentration of PCBs in a school.

Hornbuckle says it’s long been known that PCBs are present in some foods, and that’s how scientists expect children take in most of those chemicals.

"Our study showed that inhalation of PCBs in their schoolrooms could also be another large source of PCBs," Hornbuckle says. "And our estimation is that it could be similar to that that they get from their food."

PCB levels found so far in Iowa schools are below what’s considered dangerous by the Environmental Protection Agency, but Hornbuckle says levels are high enough to be concerning.

The study included schools in Iowa and Indiana. 

Hornbuckle says her team will try to learn more about the different sources of PCBs in schools and how they can be safely removed.