The use of Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in building materials – particularly caulk – was widespread before 1977, and although the health risks associated with PCBs are well known, there is currently no legal requirement for commercial landowners or prospective purchasers to test for it. However, the catch 22 is that if PCBs are discovered at a property – through testing or because an employee or contractor finds it, for example – the containment and/or removal of these materials is required in accordance with  EPA regulations.  When purchasing an older commercial building, the purchaser has a decision to make during due diligence: to test or not to test for PCB (health concerns aside).  So when should you test, and when is it reasonable to avoid the issue so as not to trigger mandatory and potentially costly cleanup in case contaminated materials are found?

The Use of PCBs in Building Products

PCBs have been widely studied, analyzed, regulated, and managed since the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed in 1977.  Over the nearly four decades since 1977, PCBs have been found in a wide variety of building products, including sidewalk caulk, window glazing, expansion joints, crack sealants, caulks used as gaskets, surface coatings (e.g. paint), and caulks used between masonry blocks. Much of this material still remains in excellent condition, and largely as it was the day that it was installed. In fact, this remarkable durability is largely the reason PCB use was so widespread.

PCBs are a problem from both public health and landowner perspectives. The health risks of PCBs themselves are well known as the presence of PCBs in caulk and other building materials have been found to create significant human and ecological exposures. However, the risk of PCBs in the built environment has not been fully quantified, because the amount of affected material that is out there is entirely unknown.

Requirements for Testing PCBs

EPA has studied PCBs in caulk (including surface coatings), investigated PCB in school buildings, and developed regulations and guidelines for PCBs in building materials when discovered. However, EPA does not require commercial landowners, States, or municipalities to proactively test for the presence of PCBs-containing building materials.  In some instances, municipalities, private lenders, and public lending agencies require testing for PCBs in building materials. However, there still remains no Federal requirement to do so.

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