in caulk: a looming issue for the construction and demolition
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) contained
in building materials, particularly caulk, are rapidly becoming
a large issue for the demolition and construction industry, and
for society as a whole. At the same time, environmental remediation
of PCBs presents C&D contractors with a widening stream of
new revenue opportunities.
John Lloyd, owner of Lloyd’s Construction
Services of Savage, Minnesota, is also chairman of the environmental
committee of the National Demolition Association. Lloyd said,
“If there’s scientific data that proves that PCBs in caulk are
harmful to the environment and getting into our waterways, we
have to deal with it. Many firms belonging to the Association
do environmental remediation. If it is proven harmful we will
be there to service that need and do it properly, but we do not
want to see unnecessary regulation that raises costs for building
owners and eventually for the consumer.”
Beginning in the 1980s, national attention
on PCB clean up focused on mammoth superfund sites like the Hudson
River and other rivers and lakes around the country that were
contaminated by manufacturing plants that dumped PCBs into waterways.
The nation’s largest superfund site, the Hudson River, is taking
decades and billions of dollars to remove contaminated sludge
from 200 miles of river bottom.
Banned by the United States Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) in 1979, PCBs are perhaps the most pernicious
of all man-made materials, extremely dangerous to the health
of man and beast, non-soluble, non-biodegradable, difficult to
identify and recover and costly to destroy by chemical, thermal
or biochemical processes. The alternative disposal is a Subtitle
C landfill that accepts hazardous waste such as PCBs with levels
exceeding 50 parts-per-million (ppm) and not above 1,000 ppm,
which is also expensive.
Now the next generation of PCB remediation
is beginning to emerge for homes and workplaces, but especially
for school buildings due to growing health concerns, expanding
regulations and liability issues. The costs for this stage of
the clean up could prove to be astronomical.
If regulators force school districts to perform
immediate PCB remediation for caulking, it could cause widespread
bankruptcies. Last December, the EPA urged New York City schools
to replace light fixtures containing PCBs. New York officials
estimated it would cost more than $1 billion to remove and replace
lighting fixtures in approximately 800 buildings across the city.
They don’t have the money. This does not even address PCBs widely
found at hazardous levels in caulk and other materials, all in
a school district hard-pressed to provide basic educational services.
The issue is aggravated by another factor.
Buildings containing PCB caulking, including many schools constructed
during the 1950s and through the late 1970s are beginning to
reach end of life. As they are scheduled for demolition or renovations,
more people are calling for PCB testing. Suspect sites are also
being reported to regulators by concerned citizens, parents of
school children and environmental activists.
One such individual is George Weymouth, a
66 year-old retired union bricklayer-waterproofer who has been
investigating PCBs in caulking, working with Harvard University’s
School of Public Health. Through 32 years of job-related experience,
Weymouth is a caulking expert who surreptitiously takes caulk
samples from schools and industrial buildings and has them tested.
“I’ve been in so many schools I feel I have something to do with
the health of the children throughout the country and I’m proud
to have been on the forefront of this issue for my union.”
In the late 1990s, Weymouth was sent by his
union to be trained as a construction safety and health specialist.
He worked with the Center for Construction Safety and Health
Research and Training, formerly the Center to Protect Workers’
Rights. There Weymouth teamed with other trained journeymen and
industrial hygiene researchers to measure respirable silica exposure
generated from construction tasks like masonry work and abrasive
blasting. This work contributed to efforts by his union to develop
contract language that would require employers to use water or
local exhaust ventilation when cutting or grinding masonry.
A few years after retirement, Weymouth began
working with Dr. Robert Herrick, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s
School of Public Health, and began to take samples of caulk in
Massachusetts and New York City schools and industrial buildings.
Over the past few years he has acquired and tested caulk samples
from approximately 150 buildings. “One sample was a piece of
caulk that fell out of a window and was lying on the ground.
We had it analyzed and it was off the charts with PCBs, in the
range of 90,000 ppm. I have taken samples ranging from 60,000
to 240,000 ppm. I’m on the road now and for every six samples
I take, four are hot.”
PCBs have a range of toxicity and vary in
consistency from thin, light-colored liquids to yellow or black
waxy solids. Due to their non-flammability, chemical stability,
high boiling point, and electrical insulating properties, PCBs
were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications.
For a scientific overview of PCB caulking,
we spoke with Ann Casey, technical services manager at NEA-Pace
Analytical Service. NEA-Pace operates a state-of-the-art 15,000
sq. ft. laboratory in Schenectady, New York that is home to some
of the most advanced PCB analysis in the world. “PCBs were pretty
much used in everything. Everyone always points to transformers
and capacitors. Fifty percent of Monsanto products did go to
that, but where did the other 50 percent go? That’s the part
people miss. They are in caulk, floor tile, ceiling tile, paints,
wire, ballasts and in gymnasium floors because of the varnishes
In 2006, primary school districts began to
find PCB in caulk. Since the mid-1990s the New York State dormitory
authority that oversees the state university system has been
looking at caulk “It greatly concerned people to find a piece
of caulk that has 250,000 ppm or 25 percent of its weight PCBs.
That’s huge. You have to start worrying about how much contact
people are having with PCBs and if it’s getting into the air
and the soil around the buildings,” said Casey. (For soil, the
clean up standard in New York State is 1 ppm PCB).
“There are a lot of rules and regulations
out there, but it depends on how they are applied. It’s different
in every state. The only thing that supersedes everything is
the federal Toxic Substance Control Act (TOCA). If it exceeds
the 50 ppm rule, it’s considered hazardous waste and you are
required by law to treat it as such,” Casey added. This is where
it becomes difficult for contractors. You can’t tell by looking
at caulk if it’s contaminated. It must be tested.”
What if debris is not tested and it is refused
at a landfill because it’s greater than 50 ppm?
“That’s what happened with school districts,”
reported Casey. “We’ve had contractors that have done window
jobs and then find PCBs well above 50 ppm. They have contaminated
the soil around the building and inside the school. Now you have
to find out where the PCBs are coming from (caulk, light ballast,
paint floor or ceiling tiles) and how far the contamination has
spread. That can be costly. I tell contractors to always take
samples before starting a job. Some sample indoor air and if
the air higher than 100ng/m3, the job changes. Some just test
the caulk and wipe samples. If PCBs are greater than 50 ppm in
a solid they have to go into what is being called asbestos protocol.
Most contractors are heeding the warning, but, unfortunately
some are not.”
The cost for a basic caulk analysis at NEA
is approximately $75, which includes a report. “We’ve had clients
that tested 10 windows in a row that were screaming with PCBs.
Then the next four windows had absolutely nothing, and then it
goes back to screaming with PCBs. We’ve done thousands of caulk
samples. Generally, if there are PCBs it’s usually over 50 ppm.
“In paints, we found PCBs up to 700 ppm,” and in air samples
it has been well over 1000 ng/m3,” said Casey.
According to the EPA, PCBs have been shown
to cause cancer in animals and a number of serious non-cancer
health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous
system, endocrine system and other negative health effects. At
this time, the EPA only goes as far to say that PCBs are potentially
cancer-causing and can cause other harmful effects in humans.
Numerous independent research studies have demonstrated ill health
effects in humans.
“You look at some caulk and it looks brand,
spanking new and it was put in 35 years ago.” Casey elaborated:
“While it’s still holding its integrity, it has contaminated
other materials around the caulking with greater than 50 ppm.
We’ve seen that again and again in wallboard, brick, masonry,
oils, varnish and in adjacent soil. It’s all contaminated. What
we don’t understand as a scientific community, is how the PCBs
are moving through the caulk into the surrounding materials and
getting into the air. This isn’t like lead or asbestos where
it travels on dust particles, it actually goes into a vapor form
in indoor areas of classrooms or other buildings being tested.
That’s where it starts to become really scary…what it’s generating
into the air and what our kids are being exposed to.”
Enterprise Network Resolutions Contracting
(ENRC) in Winslow, New Jersey is a toxic substance remediation
and waste management company in business for 25 years. Ted Budzynski,
CEO, said that ENRC finds PCB levels in caulk below 50 ppm most
all of the time, but he related a cautionary tale on the consequences
of contamination. “PCB oils are often found in the make-up of
concrete and brick. That has become a major issue in New Jersey.
What changed the landscape of concrete-masonry waste management
in 2007 was the demolition of an old Ford Motor Company plant
in Edison, New Jersey. The demolition contractor took down the
plant and recycled the concrete and brick into a by-product which
was distributed to about 10 to 15 sites around the state. Someone
took samples at one site and found it had PCBs, along with other
constituents, that exceed New Jersey non-residential cleanup
standards (levels less than 50 ppm), which is fairly high when
your clean-up level for residential standards at the time was
.49 ppm. The responsible party, a site developer, was required
to go back and remediate those sites in some fashion. The bigger
problem was the contaminated material was mixed with soil that
doubled or tripled the original volume from the Ford Plant. Ford
and the developer had to foot the bill.”
“Identifying PCBs in caulking is relatively
new and just beginning to be regulated. In the past, we rarely
tested for it, but we are starting to do so now,” said Mike Casbon,
senior construction manager of Environmental Resources Management,
Inc. (ERM). ERM is a global provider of environmental, health
and safety, risk, and social consulting services. Casbon is also
chairman of the health and safety committee of the National Demolition
“We all knew about PCBs in capacitors, transformers
and oils, and we have been removing and cleaning that stuff up
for years, but some of the new identifications have to do with
caulking issues and landfill investigations that have come up.
At the Demolition Association, we have been actively talking
about the caulking issue for two years,” said Casbon.
“It’s a very tricky subject. A lot of the
states run programs and enforce it in different ways. Texas handles
it one way, Minnesota another. There’s no clear enforcement policy
in the United States. It’s jurisdiction by jurisdiction. The
demolition industry is prepared to handle it, but it’s more of
an educational issue for customers asking for demolition. We
may have to come back to the customer and say there’s PCB caulking
and it has to be handled differently and that’s going to increase
costs, on some jobs maybe $50 to $100 thousand dollars, which
in today’s economy could make or break a project.”
PCBs in caulking were most heavily used in
northern states because the compound facilitated application
in cold weather. Besides sealing windows and door frames, heavy
applications were applied to masonry expansion joints, stairways,
and roof soffits. In warmer states, lower levels of toxicity
are often found, or none at all. Testing is the only way to tell.
Many laboratories do not have the technology to accurately analyze
George Weymouth, the secret agent of caulk
sampling, summarized the problem from his standpoint – “PCBs
in caulking is a dirty little secret, a widely unrecognized source
of PCB contamination. People just don’t want to deal with it
because of the money involved for proper removal and containment.”
The opposing view is that PCBs in building
materials should be handled properly, but with common-sense,
patience and regulations that don’t break the bank.
For more information about PCB problem in
schools, visit: www.pcbinschools.org.