Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are toxic and persist in the environment. Before their manufacture was banned in 1979, PCBs were used widely in electrical equipment, including transformers. Many transformers in use still contain traces of PCB-contaminated oil, even after the oil has been changed several times.  

It should be assumed that any oil-filled electrical equipment that ever contained PCBs will be regulated. If you are planning a remodel, laboratory move or standard maintenance and alterations, you must have equipment suspected or known to contain PCBs inspected and screened.

Fluorescent light ballasts may contain PCBs and must be managed through EH&S. All ballasts manufactured through 1978 contain PCBs. Newer ballasts may still contain PCBs or the carcinogenic chemical DEHP. For these reasons, all fluorescent light ballasts which are not specifically labeled "No PCBs" are to be managed as dangerous waste.  

Leaking PCB ballasts are considered an occupational exposure hazard by skin contact.

  • If the contamination is extensive, call the EH&S Spills Advice line at 206.543.0467.
  • Call 911 if there is an explosion, fire, serious injury or catastrophic leak.

Buildings constructed or renovated between 1950 and the 1970s may have PCBs in the caulk around windows, in weather stripping and in masonry expansion joints. These materials have tested positive for PCBs on campus and around the nation.

Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) oversees PCB management, coordinating sampling and disposal, conducting audits, reviewing work plans and ensuring compliance with the regulations. More information can be found in the EH&S Design Guides.

Services available

EH&S can provide assistance with identifying, managing, and disposing of PCB contaminated waste.


Environmental Programs

(206) 616-5835