Factsheet courtesy of the Washington Toxics Coalition.
PCBs and DDT are chemicals that were banned more than 30 years ago, but our air, water, land, and bodies are so contaminated that decades of cleanup efforts have yet to eliminate their threats to our health.
PCBs - polychlorinated biphenyls - are synthetic (human-made) chemicals first produced in the late 1920s. They were used as cooling fluids in electrical equipment and machinery because of their durability and resistance to fire.
DDT - dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane - was developed as an insecticide in the 1940s, and was widely used during World War II to combat insect-borne diseases.
We are still exposed to PCBs and DDT through our food.
The histories of DDT and PCBs are both success stories and cautionary tales. Since these chemicals were banned 30 years ago, levels in our bodies have declined. And yet, we still face levels that could be causing harm—decades after regulatory action.
PCBs are a major contaminant in Puget Sound, and evidence is accumulating that they are a serious threat to the Sound’s wildlife, too.
Washington state should restore the health of Puget Sound by: fully cleaning up PCB contamination; preventing recontamination; and phasing out other persistent toxic chemicals such as PBDEs and perfluorinated compounds.
Unless you live near an industrial or agricultural site contaminated with PCBs or DDT, your greatest source of exposure to these chemicals is likely to be food. While you cannot completely avoid these chemicals in your diet, you can make some choices that will help reduce your exposure to them.
The most important actions you can take to reduce the PCBs and DDT in your diet are to cut back on animal fats and watch the type of fish you eat.
Choose fish wisely. Check with state advisories before eating sport-caught fish or shellfish, which are often high in PCBs and DDT. Commercial fish that are high in PCBs include Atlantic or farmed salmon, bluefish, wild striped bass, white and Atlantic croaker, blackback or winter flounder, summer flounder, and blue crab. Commercial fish that contain higher levels of pesticides, including DDT, are bluefish, wild striped bass, American eel, and Atlantic salmon.
When preparing fish, remove the skin, trim the fat, and broil, bake, or grill the fish so that the fat drips away; this will reduce your exposure to PCBs and other toxic chemicals that have accumulated in fatty tissue. Fish are an excellent source of nutrients including protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D, so don’t remove fish from your diet—but do be selective about the fish you eat.
Make your meat lean. When it comes to meat, choose lean meat cuts, and buy organic meats if possible. Cut off visible fat before cooking meat and choose lower-fat cooking methods: broiling, grilling, roasting or pressure-cooking. Avoid frying meat in lard, bacon grease, or butter.
Limit dairy fat. Opt for low-fat, organic options when it comes to dairy products, too.
For more information on pollutants in fish, meats, and dairy, see: