PCBs are a large group of related industrial chemicals.
PCBs are common contaminants in fish in many parts of the world.
The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) issues health advisories for people who fish and their families.
PCBs are man-made. They were made in the United States from about 1930 to 1977. They were used in:
PCBs were banned for most uses because they do not break down easily and stay in the environment for a long time.
Spills, leaks, and improper disposal are the main ways that PCBs have entered the environment.
PCBs are mainly found in:
Fish and shellfish usually contain the highest PCB levels of any food, especially fish that:
People may also be exposed to small amounts of PCBs from fluorescent light fixtures or electrical appliances more than 30 years old. People who work with PCB transformers, breathe the air near hazardous waste sites, or drink water from a PCB-contaminated well can also be exposed.
Mothers can pass PCBs to their babies during pregnancy or in breast milk. But exposure to PCBs has decreased since they were banned in 1977.
High levels of PCBs have been found in some species of fish in or near San Francisco Bay, Santa Monica Bay, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, San Pedro Bay, Long Beach Harbor, and San Diego Bay.
OEHHA has fish advisories for these locations based on PCB levels in certain kinds of fish.
Although PCB levels in fish have been decreasing since they were banned, scientists may still find PCBs in fish from other areas of the state that have not yet been tested.
In the past, some people were exposed to very high levels of PCBs at work or from accidental poisoning.
Studies with animals showed that high levels of PCBs could harm the liver, digestive tract, and nerves; and could affect development, reproduction, and the immune system.
PCB levels in fish are much lower than levels that may have made people sick in the past from work or accidental poisonings. PCB levels in fish also are much lower than levels given to laboratory animals.
It is very unlikely that you will have any obvious signs of harm from PCBs.
Fish advisories can help you prevent PCBs from building up in your body to levels that could cause health problems or increase your chance of getting cancer.
A large amount of PCBs can be removed from fish if you cook and clean them in certain ways.
If you eat crabs or lobsters, you should not eat the soft green parts because PCBs can build up there.
Health advisories for sport fish in all parts of California are printed in the California Sport Fishing Regulations booklet.This booklet can be found online and where fishing licenses are sold.
You can also get updates and other information on fish advisories or “safe eating guidelines” from OEHHA or call us at (916) 327-7319 or (510) 622-3170.
More information on PCBs is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
View maps of current statewide and site-specific advisories
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