A polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) is a synthetic organic chemical compound of chlorine attached to biphenyl, which is a molecule composed of two benzene rings. There are 209 configurations of organochlorides with 1 to 10 chlorine atoms. The chemical formula for a PCB is C12H10−xClx. Of the different PCB arrangements and orientations 130 are used commercially.
Polychlorinated biphenyls were widely used as dielectric and coolant fluids in electrical apparatus, cutting fluids for machining operations, carbonless copy paper and in heat transfer fluids. Because of PCBs' environmental toxicity and classification as a persistent organic pollutant, PCB production was banned by the United States Congress in 1979 and by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001. The International Research Agency on Cancer (IRAC), rendered PCBs as definite carcinogens in humans. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PCBs cause cancer in animals and are probable human carcinogens. Many rivers and buildings including schools and other sites are contaminated with PCBs, and there have been contaminations of food supplies with the toxins.
Some PCBs share a structural similarity and toxic mode of action with dioxin. Other toxic effects such as endocrine disruption (notably blocking of thyroid system functioning) and neurotoxicity are known. The maximum allowable contaminant level in drinking water in the United States is set at zero, but because of water treatment technologies, a level of 0.5 parts per billion is the de factor level.