Environmental Protection Agency Warns of PCB Risks in Schools

I read an interesting piece of article on the WSJ (29th December 2010) captioned: EPA warns of PCB risk in schools and feel duty bound to share the content of the article with readers on my blog. It made me feel sad on the way environmental issues are attended to by our leaders in Nigeria.
It is disheartening to note that despite the enormous environmental challenges that still exists, our leaders still doesn’t know; the few ones that knows little about those challenges often turn blind eyes to them.
Most of our leaders believe that environmentalism is something to do with fight against climate change or about the looks of soil and water surrounding them. No, there is more to that; it is a question of life and death.
In Nigeria, the gap between rich and poor keeps widening and the middle class have been wiped out. The affluent class live in clean safe environments and the poor leave in areas surrounded by landfills and incinerators, and often use polluted water for their washings, cooking etc, getting more exposed to unclean environments and its associated ill hazards……..a typical example of ‘environmental injustice’.
I would first like to briefly say something on PCBs before I discuss the content of the published WSJ article.
PCBs are man-made chemicals which came into production in 1929. They are highly non-reactive and resistant to acids and bases as well as to heat thus persists in the environment.
It is these unique properties that gave them edge and thus widely in use as an insulating material in electric equipment (eg transformers and capacitors), in heat transfer fluids, in lubricants and wide range of products such as plasticizers, paints, surface coatings, inks, adhesives, flame retardants, and carbonless duplicating paper.
PCB pollution could arise from landfills (containing transformers, capacitors, other PCB wastes etc releasing PCBs into the air) or incineration of municipal waste (producing dangerous bi-products, such as hydrogen chloride and dioxins.
PCBs are insoluble in water, but readily soluble in fats another way of how PCBs can build up in animal fat and enter our food chain. It can be measured in biological (human serum, milk, fatty tissue, animal tissues, fish and other dairy products) and non-biological (air, drinking water, soil, sediment, solid waste) samples.
PCBs pollute the environment and have strong carcinogenic potentials in humans. It directly or indirectly accumulates in our body and adversely affect our immune and reproductive systems and can cause different types of cancers. It is because of these and many other adverse effects of PCBs that in 1970 through 80’s their use has been banned or severely restricted in many countries.
In the WSJ article, it was reported that the U.S. authorities’ urges schools built before 1979 across the U.S.A. to replace the electrical components in older light fixtures to reduce the threat of contamination from potentially cancer-causing chemicals, the PCBs (poly chlorinated bisphenyls).
This is an example of a country where democracy is working and the leaders have feelings of their citizens at heart.
The article went further to say that this was a non binding recommendations released by the agency and it urges schools to replace electrical components in the light fixtures with a view to prevent escape of PCBs into the air which if they persist over time could present health concerns. This decision, which aims to primarily ensure the safety of students and their lecturers, was taken after the EPA run a study of three schools in the New York City which revealed that many fixtures in the schools were leaking PCBs.
According to the EPA officials, the cost of this project in about 800 buildings across the city could be as high as $1 billion.
I hope our leaders in Nigeria would learn from this and know that leadership (especially in a democratic dispensation) is meant to serve the people and not the reverse.

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25 thoughts on “Environmental Protection Agency Warns of PCB Risks in Schools

  1. I can now see the reason why interest in farmed salmons is declining. Does it mean the PCBs are accumulating in the fatty portion of the fish since it is insoluble and dairy products are good channels of PCBs reaching our food chains?

  2. Doc, how safe is wild salmon compared to farmed salmon considering PCBs in fish and fish related products? Here at the UAE, we value sea food much more than beef and now with this stuff on PCBs the whole thing is becoming confusing. Would you add more light to that from the medical angle?

    1. Thanks Khalil for this interesting question. There’s no doubt that the importance of consuming fish (because of its high Omega-3 fatty acids) in the prevention of several diseases (eg heart disease, stroke, age- related macular degeneration) has been underscored in several medical literatures. However, these benefits may be offset by the presence of organic pollutants like the PCBs and dioxins hence the need for ‘risk assessment’ to be able to establish tolerable daily intake levels for dioxin-like compounds and also safe consumption rates for farmed as well as wild salmon. To play it safe, you could take moderate amount of fish eg 1-2 meals per week and other varieties of diet that contains high Omega-3 fatty acids eg nuts, vegetable oil, seed etc. I hope am able to reasonably answer your question.

  3. Cathy, the issue of PCBs concentrating in the fatty portion of fish has no selection as to whether it is farmed or wild; what is important is the country of origin of the fish notwithstanding the fact that wild salmon has less fat in the skin than farmed salmon thus probably the reason why people go for wild than farmed salmon. What is important, as Dr Jalal rightly said, is RA should be done to be able to set acceptable limit of PCBs and other dioxins and also advisable to eat other varieties of foods that contain high omega-3 fatty acids.

  4. Doc, you made mention of 1-2 meals of fish per week; is this a standard recommended dose to get the required amount of Omega-3 fatty acids to prevent all these diseases you listed or is just a suggestion you are making. Thanks once more.

    1. Thanks for the question. The 1-2 meals of fish per week is the amount recommended by regulatory authorities. This is keeping in mind the type and source of the fish as some waters are more polluted with PCBs than others and fish with much fatty skin are likely to concentrate PCBs and dioxins more than those without much fat.

  5. Doc, I must commend you for such a wonderful blog post. It is disheartening to hear that in Nigeria, despite its riches, is somehow indifferent on environmental issues of vital importance to its populace. Please use your good knowledge to remind the public and policy makers on sensitive issues pertaining the environment. Keep it up!

  6. Jalal, I guess in Nigeria the concern should be more on plasticizers. I read in your earlier post on ‘scarcity of clean water in Nigeria’ when you mentioned about high use of PVC sachet water in the country. Plasticizers (also components of PCBs) are important environmental polluters and when use in landfills they are likely to emit toxic gases as those released by PCBs directly.

  7. Dr, you impeccably hit the bulls eye. We in the northern fringes of the country are the worst affected. Our toothless and aimless leaders are sailing driftless with the country. We need more circulation of this kind of stuff.

  8. I call this ‘cutting-edge’ in blogging. I like the way you decided to educate us on often ignored but important topics like the PCBs, dioxins, plasticizers etc. I hop our leaders would heed to your advice and work selflessly for the good of not only the affluent ones but also the poor and less privileged ones alike. Well done, once more!

  9. Interesting topic; well discussed. I hope those steering affairs of the country would think in the right direction. Kudos.

  10. I call this another masterpiece. I agree with Aisha’s remarks: ‘important but often ignored health hazards’. If people would be constantly educated on issues like this, I believe the government wouldn’t have an alternative but to attend to the environmental issues as we want it to be.

  11. Mahmod, I strongly believe if environmentalists and PH specialists in Nigeria would act accordingly as Jalal is doing now, environmental issues would be a thing of the past. Join heads together and act!

  12. Interesting discussions! I totally agree with Dikwa that more circulation of this kind of stuff is needed to be able to put those leaders on their feet. I would further urge Dikwa to be a constant contributor on da blog discussions.

  13. Hadiza, it is an interesting discourse. As a reminder, Farha made a beautiful observation and I hope Jalal wouldn’t just sweep it under the carpet. Cheers!

    1. Thanks Howard and all other contributors. Farha’s remarks is more than just an observation but an important additional stuff. I agree that I vaguely mentioned plasticizers and fortunately Farha added additional points on that. I need not to be very detailed on all issues. That is all about blogging; to create discourse on issues. I urge all to add or subtract as new posts are made.
      Sent from my BlackBerry® Smartphone, from Etisalat. Enjoy high speed internet service with Etisalat easy net, available at all our experience centres

  14. Jalal, it was on news since early hours of today that there was a recall of eggs and other poultry related products in Germany because of contamination of poultry feed with Dioxin……what a coincidence. When I heard the news it was your blog post that first came to mind. Thanks!

  15. Cath, it was a timely post on the issue of PCBs and dioxin by Jalal and it was his blog post that came to my mind as well. I can assure you that if it is Nigeria, the authorities would either be ignorant about it or lack the know-how on detecting cases of this importance. Bad!

  16. Aisha, weighing the economic losses that the industry would suffer, they wouldn’t even allow the authorities entrusted with the responsibilities of detecting cases like that make their report public.

  17. This is a true indication that Jalal is a conscientious Public Health specialist serving not only his immediate constituency (Nigeria) but the entire world. Keep the good work!

  18. Dr Jalal, your posting on PCBs and Dioxins was very timely. Top on the headlines of all the International news outfits is the issue of Dioxin contaminating poultry feeds in Germany which made the authority concerned recalling eggs, chickens and meat products. Well done!

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