Because of their chemical stability, fire-resistance and insulating properties, PCBs were added to a wide variety of building materials from the 1930s until the late 1970s. Although the manufacturing and use of PCBs was banned by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 1979, they still have an impact on current construction projects where demolition and waste disposal are an issue.
While the use of building materials with PCBs (at concentrations equal or greater than 50 ppm) is prohibited, there are no specific regulations addressing building materials that are already in use. Therefore, testing, reporting and/or removing PCB-impacted building materials are not expressly required as long as they are left in place and in good working order (for example, impacted paint is not peeling or caulk is not cracking). The construction industry is impacted by PCB regulations when renovation and demolition processes result in disturbing and disposing these building materials that may contain PCBs. As such, TSCA regulations place specific requirements on the proper characterization, handling, removal, transport and disposal of PCB-impacted building materials. These requirements significantly affect the cost and schedule of construction projects.
PCBs were a common additive in paints by the 1950s for water and chemical resistance, elasticity and durability. Added to paints at concentrations between 5% and 10%, PCB paints were most commonly used on the surfaces of industrial equipment, furnaces and masonry walls.
Containing as high as 20% PCBs, caulking was another building material that commonly contained PCBs. PCBs are often found in high concentrations in the expansion joints of masonry buildings and concrete structures that were built between the 1940s and the 1970s. However, PCB caulking was also used in window and door joints.
In addition to paint and caulk, PCBs may also be present in the following building materials:
- electrical equipment (such as liquid-filled transformers and capacitors, voltage regulators, switches, reclosers, bushings and electromagnets)
- coatings and sealants
- fluorescent light ballasts
- older electrical equipment
- cable insulation
- roofing and siding materials
- insulation materials (such as fiberglass, wool felt and plastic foam);
- adhesives and tapes
- floor finish