EPA rejects bid to tighten decades-old limits for PCBs

By Ellie Borst | 04/05/2024 01:39 PM EDT

Washington state petitioned the agency to reevaluate its 1984 rule on the cancer-linked chemicals.

EPA headquarters.

EPA headquarters. Francis Chung/E&E News

EPA denied the state of Washington’s petition to lower the allowable threshold of contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls, long-lasting chemicals tied to cancer.

Responding to the state’s request that EPA start the rulemaking process for evaluating the PCB limits set in 1984, the agency said “the petition is insufficiently specific.”

“Although the EPA shares the petitioner’s concerns regarding risks to human health and the environment posed by PCBs, the petition failed to point with any specificity to deficiencies in the Agency’s promulgation of the 1984 final rule and determination of no unreasonable risk under” a section of the Toxic Substances Control Act, wrote Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.


Despite PCBs being banned in 1979, contamination still lingers in products made before the ban and poses health risks such as liver cancer, reproductive issues and thyroid dysfunction. PCBs were popular for their flame-resistant properties and were widely used for decades in building materials, electrical equipment, paints, plastics and other products.