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October 2009

EPA Issues Guidance about Reducing Exposure to PCB-Containing Caulk Used in Buildings Constructed or Renovated Between 1950 and 1978

On September 25, 2009, EPA announced new guidance for building managers and school administrators with important information about managing caulk that contains potentially harmful polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Buildings and schools built after 1978 should not contain PCBs in caulk; however, PCB-containing caulk was used in many buildings, including schools, in the 1950s through the 1970s because the PCBs imparted greater flexibility to the material.

Though EPA has stated that the potential presence of PCBs in buildings and schools should not be a cause for alarm, several immediate steps should be taken at buildings or schools built or renovated between 1950 and 1978 to reduce exposure until contaminated caulk can be removed. Those steps include: cleaning air ducts; improving ventilation, including opening windows and using or installing fans where possible; cleaning frequently to reduce dust and residue inside buildings; using a wet or damp cloth or mop to clean surfaces; using vacuums with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters; minimizing the use of dry brooms and dusters; washing children's hands with soap and water often, particularly before eating; wash children's toys often; and wash hands with soap and water after cleaning, and before eating or drinking.

If building owners and school administrators are concerned about potential PCBs in caulk at their buildings, they should consider testing according to EPA-approved methods to determine if PCBs are present in the air. If testing reveals PCB levels above the levels EPA has determined to be safe, one should be especially vigilant in implementing practices to minimize exposures and should retest frequently to determine whether those practices are reducing PCB air exposures. Should those practices not reduce exposure, caulk and other known sources of PCBs should be removed as soon as practicable. Where buildings or schools were constructed or renovated between 1950 and 1978, EPA recommends that PCB-containing caulk be removed during planned renovations and repairs (when replacing windows, doors, roofs, ventilation, etc.). It is critically important to assure that PCBs are not released to air during replacement or repair of caulk in affected buildings.

These same materials must be considered when construction work – even work as seemingly minor as window repair or replacement – is performed in a building. The proper disposal of such materials, once removed, may also be an issue. Building managers and school administrators must know and comply with all regulations applicable to PCB-containing caulk.
EPA's Regional PCB Coordinators will assist communities in identifying potential problems and, if necessary, developing plans for PCB testing and removal. In addition, EPA’s new guidance and numerous EPA brochures, information kits and fact sheets with respect to this issue may be found at