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Rev Environ Health. 2006 Jan-Mar;21(1):1-23.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): routes of exposure and effects on human health.

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Institute for Health and the Environment University at Albany, SUNY, USA.


The polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are synthetic organochlorine chemicals that were useful industrial products in the past, but their production was ended because they persist in both the environment and living organisms. The PCBs are mixtures of up to 209 different components (congeners), depending on the number and position of chlorines around the biphenyl ring. The PCBs are fat-soluble substances to which everyone is exposed through ingesting animal fats, inhalation, or dermal contact. Exposure to PCBs suppresses the immune system, thereby increasing the risk of acquiring several human diseases. Both ortho-substituted and coplanar (dioxin-like) congeners are tumor promoters that enhance the effects of other carcinogenic substances. PCB exposure, especially during fetal and early life, reduces IQ and alters behavior. The PCBs alter thyroid and reproductive function in both males and females and increase the risk of developing cardiovascular and liver disease and diabetes. Women are at high risk of giving birth to infants of low birth weight, who are at high lifetime risk for several diseases. As knowledge of their toxic effects has grown faster than environmental levels have declined, PCBs remain dangerous contaminants.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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