PCB a forgotten legacy?

PCB – Hazardous chemicals affecting the environment and our health

PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are toxic, man-made, organic chemicals that have dangerous effects on the environment and our health.

PCB persist in the environment for long periods and can travel over great distances through air, water and migratory species across international boundaries. They accumulate in fatty tissue and bio-magnify higher up in the food chain, where they can be harmful to top predators, such as tuna, seals, polar bears, and humans.

PCB effects on the environment and the human body


Why were PCB produced and where to find them?

PCB were produced in large quantities between the 1930s and 1980s. They were used in closed applications, such as transformers and capacitors (typically as part of electric power transmission systems), and in open applications such as paint, buildings, installations and machinery.

PCB - A Forgotten Legacy?

Although PCB are no longer allowed to be produced, they remain a toxic legacy to the environment and our health. It is a global issue, everyone in the world is likely to have PCB quantities in his or her body. The map below shows some examples of this global toxic legacy.

PCB a forgotten legacy

Video:PCB a forgotten legacy?

Brochure: PCB a forgotten legacy?

Progress toward elimination of PCB - Are we on track?

So far, only 3 million tonnes of equipment and materials containing PCB have been eliminated. 14 million tonnes, which corresponds to 83% of the total, are still to be eliminated.

PCB Eliminated (17%)PCB To be Eliminated (83%)
PCB Elimination

Learn more about progress toward elimination of PCB.

Measures to reduce the global amounts of PCB

The Stockholm Convention is a global treaty that aims to protect the environment and our health from PCB and other chemicals, called Persistent Organic Pollutants. It calls upon Parties to phase out the use of PCB in equipment by 2025 and ensure elimination of PCB by 2028. To date, 181 countries around the world have become Parties to the Stockholm Convention.

Learn more about PCB and the Stockholm Convention here

You can't complete the Sustainable Development Goals without Chemicals and Waste!

SDG goals

Environmentally Sound Management of hazardous chemicals, like PCB, play an important role in successfully completing the Sustainable Development Goals. For example:

Goal 3. Good health and well-being: PCB concentrations exceeding the standards can negatively affect human health and well-being.

Goal 9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure: New innovative technologies and use of alternative products with regard to PCB are part of sustainable industrialization.

Goal 14. Life below water: Improving the management of PCB and reducing its release into the environment is an important intervention in protecting the world’s oceans, seas and marine resources.

The PCB Elimination Network (PEN)

PEN logoThe PCB Elimination Network (PEN) is a multi-stakeholder mechanism that promotes and encourages the environmentally sound management of PCB with a view to attaining the 2025 and 2028 goals of the Stockholm Convention. For more information about the PEN, please click here.

Seventh Meeting of the Advisory Committee of the PEN, 2 to 3 December 2016. Asunción, Paraguay.

Further Resources