Researchers find potentially toxic substance present in Chicago air

Sep 29, 2008

Although the industrial compounds known as polychlorinated biphenols or PCBs have been found in previous air samples collected in the city of Chicago, a University of Iowa researcher says that a new study of Chicago air sampled between November 2006 and November 2007 found PCB11, a byproduct of the manufacture of paint pigments and a potentially toxic substance, present throughout the city.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first published report of PCB11 in ambient air," said Keri Hornbuckle, UI professor of civil and environmental engineering, in the Sept. 24 online issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The journal can be found at pubs.acs.org/journals/esthag/.

"This compound is ubiquitous in air throughout the city of Chicago," said Hornbuckle, who is also a researcher at the renowned Iowa research institute IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering.

"We do not know if there are any health concerns associated with this compound but there are very few published studies of its toxic properties," she said.

To conduct the test, UI researchers mounted air sample collection devices on platforms attached to the rear of two medical clinic vans provided by the Mobile C.A.R.E. Foundation of Chicago (Comprehensive Care for Chicagoland's Children with Asthma). The samples were collected during the six to eight hours each day that the vans visited sites, primarily elementary schools, where the mobile clinics provide service to students and their families.

In all, researchers found PCB11 in 91 percent of the 184 samples collected.

Regarding the possible source of the substance, Hornbuckle and her UI colleagues Dingfei Hu and Andres Martinez reported, "The wide distribution of PCB11 in Chicago air is consistent with volatilization of this compound from painted surfaces although the actual source of PCB11 is unknown."

Historically, PCB11 is one of 209 compounds manufactured between the late 1920s and the 1970s. The report noted that they were primarily marketed as mixtures called Aroclors by chemical companies until U.S. production ceased in the late 1970s. The distribution of PCB11 throughout residential areas of Chicago suggests that the compound is a past or current component of consumer paint products.

The report also said that the historical trend for PCB11 is unknown and probably different from that for Aroclors -- particularly if PCB11 is produced as a by-product of current paint manufacturing -- and that Aroclor-PCBs in the environment are decreasing worldwide, but this may not be the case for PCB11.

The prevalence of PCB11 in Chicago air suggests that there are either multiple current sources in the city or that this compound is ubiquitous in background air. This has important implications for human exposure to this potentially toxic compound, according to the study.

"While inhalation is not widely considered to be a major exposure route for higher molecular weight PCBs, it may be an important route for PCB11," Hornbuckle said. "Not only is PCB11 one of the most volatile PCBs, if it is present in interior paints, then indoor concentrations may be much higher than reported here."

Concluding that further study is needed, Hornbuckle and her colleagues said "Consumption of paint chips could be also a direct exposure route for children. It is also possible that PCB11 is present not only in Chicago, but in air elsewhere and also in fish, soil, water, food and humans."

Source: University of Iowa

Explore further: China insists wealthy countries should improve emission targets

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Team improves solar-cell efficiency

13 hours ago

New light has been shed on solar power generation using devices made with polymers, thanks to a collaboration between scientists in the University of Chicago's chemistry department, the Institute for Molecular ...

Calif. teachers fund to boost clean energy bets

13 hours ago

The California State Teachers' Retirement System says it plans to increase its investments in clean energy and technology to $3.7 billion, from $1.4 billion, over the next five years.

Alibaba surges in Wall Street debut

13 hours ago

A buying frenzy sent Alibaba shares sharply higher Friday as the Chinese online giant made its historic Wall Street trading debut.

Dwindling wind may tip predator-prey balance

13 hours ago

Bent and tossed by the wind, a field of soybean plants presents a challenge for an Asian lady beetle on the hunt for aphids. But what if the air—and the soybeans—were still?

Recommended for you

Rio's Olympic golf course in legal bunker

Sep 18, 2014

The return of golf to the Olympics after what will be 112 years by the time Rio hosts South America's first Games in 2016 comes amid accusations environmental laws were got round to build the facility in ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Rick69
not rated yet Sep 30, 2008
The groudwork is now set for numerous large lawsuits which will mean the swan song for paint companies after the additional 1-2 punch from lead paint lawsuits. Won't it be wonderful when we destroy all of our American industries and then we can stand in our long unemployment lines and wonder why all of the jobs have disappeared. Meanwhile the trial lawyers will be enjoying their mansions and yachts and ....
Bob_B
1 / 5 (1) Sep 30, 2008
Note "in air" - note Chicago, now ask the Canadians if they want it. And if it is OK for Chicago, then why not all cities in the USA? Then ask Mexico if they want that air drifting their way.

You know, lawyers work in any direction, lack of action as well as taking action. Get over it and breathe deeply.