PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) is an abbreviation denoting a group of chemical substances. PCBs accumulate in the body in the case of longer-term exposure to them. PCBs are generally considered to be carcinogenic. PCBs may also have teratogenic effects and reduce fertility.
PCBs were used in elastic fillers between 1950 and 1976 and in all types of building and as a sealant adhesive in double glazing between 1967 and 1973. PCBs may also be present in floor paints, paint and similar.
PCBs penetrate easily from adhesive or sealant into the surrounding woodwork or concrete, and PCBs readily evaporate into the indoor atmosphere. PCBs from the indoor climate may be absorbed by wall paint, lacquered surfaces, furnishings and plastic. As a result PCBs from a joint, for example, may contaminate other building elements over time.
PCB usage has been very widespread. The Danish National Board of Health has therefore compiled guidelines on permitted PCB levels in the indoor environment in homes. The Working Environment Authority has compiled corresponding guidelines on permitted PCB levels in the indoor environment at places of work.
Planning and preparation
The general workplace assessment (APV) must be supplemented with a separate description of how to handle PCBs on the building site. This special assessment may be a work plan which describes in detail how to handle PCBs safely and correctly.
The building site’s health and safety plan (PSS) must also indicate where PCBs are present.
This work must be planned so that the spread of PCBs is prevented. You must avoid spreading dust, and you must also be aware of the fact that PCBs evaporate when heated, e.g. when you use fast-moving tools. If the work involves a lot of dust, or if the PCB concentrations are very high, it is necessary to provide access to the work site via a sluice.
Access to hand washing facilities with hot and cold water must be provided in the immediate vicinity of the work site. In the case of reclamation works, two changing rooms are set up in the immediate vicinity of the work site. See the section on welfare arrangements for more information.
When leaving the work site, it is necessary to ensure that the work site is cleared of PCB materials so that the rest of the building site is not contaminated with PCBs. Tools, mobile phones and similar must also be cleaned before being removed from the work site. Regular cleaning of the work site is necessary in the case of particularly dusty work.
Personal protective equipment must always be used when working with PCBs. This may include gloves made of nitrile, for example, dustproof overalls, protective goggles and respiratory protection; at least a half mask with a P3 filter for cold work or an A2/P3 filter for work where joints are machined mechanically. Remember that you must not be wearing dirty protective equipment when you leave the work site.
Access to the work site must be limited, and signs indicating the presence of PCBs must be put up.
Minors under 18 and pregnant and breastfeeding women must not work in areas where there is a risk of exposure to PCBs in excess of the limit. Working with PCBs is considered to be particularly hazardous work.
Welfare and health measures
There must always be access to bathrooms with washbasins and showers with hot and cold water next to changing rooms. There must be two lockers per person so that workwear and private clothing can be kept separate. There must also be access to canteens which must not be used for work purposes. It is necessary to ensure that canteens are not contaminated with PCBs, and so dirty protective equipment must not be taken into such areas. Therefore, it is recommended that you always wear overalls.
In the case of particularly high PCB concentrations and very dusty work (e.g. reclamation work), changing and bathing facilities must be located in the immediate vicinity of the work site. Changing and bathing facilities must be set up as two changing rooms, one clean and one dirty, where staff can pass from one to the other via a bathroom with showers. Changing rooms, bathrooms and canteens must be cleaned effectively at regular intervals. Instruction must be provided on the safe handling of PCBs in connection with this cleaning.
Waste containing PCBs must be collected and stored securely on the building site until it can be disposed of in closed containers or similar. Such waste must be disposed of in accordance with the instructions of the municipality.
If a clearance project is taking place in which all material contaminated with PCBs is to be removed, there are a few special rules.
The work site must be screened off to the necessary extent, and underpressure must be established in the work area. In addition, you must use special tools with extraction and dust filters.
When you use tools which give off dust and generate heat, you must use the following personal protective equipment:
- Respiratory protection with a fresh air supply or respiratory protection with a visor and turbo unit with combination filter A2P3.
- Gloves made of a material which provides protection from PCBs e.g. butyl rubber, neoprene, Viton or 4H (PE/EVAL).
- Full-cover overalls, class 4/5.