PCBs and Related Chemicals
DOI link for PCBs and Related Chemicals
PCBs and Related Chemicals book
From high school to a production job in the Sprague Electric Company — that was a common career path for many 18-year-olds in the western Massachusetts mill town where I was born too many years ago. The company was one of the early users of PCBs, a versatile “oil” that filled the condensers and capacitors for a primitive pre-transistor electronic industry. I worked the night shift, sometimes up to my elbows in that magic fluid, filling thousands of metal containers before riveting their terminals and sending them along for “degreasing” to a cohort standing over a fuming vat of solvent. It was like a scene from Hades, and some of my cohorts didn’t tolerate the “oil” too well. Skin rashes, headaches, dizziness, bronchitis, eye irritations, asthma, and nausea drove some back to other less stressful departments, with lower pay scales. Outside the walls, residues of the oil were part of the effluent that emptied into the nearby Hoosac River, a terribly abused slimy tributary of a similarly degraded major river, the mighty Hudson. [Later it was discovered that the company had been also, quite legally at the time, burying drums of PCBs on the shores of the Hoosac. Burying toxic wastes in vulnerable locations did not become illegal until enactment of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1979.]
All this action took place in post-Neanderthal times — the very early 1940s — long before the first faint stirrings of any kind of environmental ethic. We knew nothing in those days about ecology or toxicology; PCBs were not recognized as a serious public health problem until the late 1960s. Evidence of harmful effects on humans and other animals has accumulated slowly since that time, especially on effects of PCBs on reproductive and developmental physiology.