Polychlorinated biphenyls, commonly known as chlorobiphenyls or PCBs, are industrials chemicals which were synthesized and commercialized in North America in 1929. They were used in the manufacturing of electrical equipment, heat exchangers, hydraulic systems, and several other specialized applications up to the late 1970s. They were never manufactured in Canada but were widely used in this country.
PCBs are very persistent both in the environment and in living tissue. The most obvious signs of environmental harm caused by PCBs are in aquatic ecosystems and in species that eat primarily aquatic organisms. Because of concern for the environmental and health effects of PCBs, the Canadian government took action to eliminate PCBs from Canada. The import, manufacture, and sale (for re-use) of PCBs were made illegal in Canada in 1977 and release to the environment of PCBs was made illegal in 1985. However, Canadian legislation has allowed owners of PCB equipment to continue using PCB equipment until the end of its service life. The storage of PCBs has been regulated since 1988. Handling, transport and destruction of PCBs are also regulated, mostly under provincial regulations.
Despite the large reductions in PCB inventories since the implementation of regulatory controls, releases of PCBs to the environment through spills and fires continue to occur. If action is not taken to "speed up" the pace of PCB phase-out, Environment Canada is concerned that the goal of elimination of PCBs from Canada may not be reached for another generation. In addition Canada is signatory to several international agreements on the phase-out of a number of persistent toxic substances including PCBs. Environment Canada has therefore repealed the Chlorobiphenyl Regulations and the Storage of PCB Material Regulations on September 5, 2008 and made the PCB Regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999 (CEPA 1999) that set specific dates for the destruction of PCBs in service and in storage.
For information on Canada's international engagement on this substance, please visit:
- UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
- Rotterdam Convention
There is more than one CAS number that applies to this group of substances.
For more information on this substance, please visit the Chemical Substances website.
- Toxic Substances Management Policy Scientific Assessment Report on PCBs:
- Notice concerning the confirmation of "Track 1 substance" status for PCBs as determined by assessment of these substances against the Track 1 criteria of the Toxic Substances Management Policy
- CEPA 1999 Schedule 1 - List of Toxic Substances - This substance has been added to the List of Toxic Substances. It is entering or may enter the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that:
a) have or may have an immediate or long-term harmful effect on the environment or its biological diversity.
b) constitute or may constitute a danger to the environment on which life depends.
c) constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health.
- Virtual elimination of the substance (Track 1) under the Toxic Substances Management Policy
This substance is entering the environment from the following source(s):
- Base Metals Smelting Sector
- Electric Power Generation Sector (Fossil Fuel)
- Forest Products Industry
- Industrial, Commercial and Consumer Products
- Steel Manufacturing Sector
Risk Management Tool(s)
Tool(s) developed to manage risks associated with the substance:
- Chlorobiphenyls Regulations
- Federal Mobile PCB Treatment and Destruction Regulations
- Storage of PCB Material Regulations
- PCB Waste Export Regulations, 1996
- Export and Import of Hazardous Wastes and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations
- Interprovincial Movement of Hazardous Waste Regulations
- CCME Guidelines: PCB Transformer Decontamination: Standards and Protocols
- CCME Guidelines: Guidelines for Mobile Polychlorinated Biphenyl Destruction Systems (PDF; 3268 KB)
- CCME Guidelines: Guidelines for Mobile Polychlorinated Biphenyl Treatment Systems
- CCME Guidelines: Guidelines for the Management of Wastes Containing Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
- Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) - Information Centre
- Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy
- Determination of Level of Quantification for Measuring PCBs in Stack Emission and Ash Samples (DRAFT) EC (2002)
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) PCB website
- Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
- United Nations Environment Program PCB website (UNEP)
- North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation Regional Action Plan on PCBs (PCB NARAP)
- North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation Regional Action Plan on PCBs (PCB NARAP): Info sheet (PDF; 2672 KB)
- United Nations Economic Commission for Europe: Convention on the Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) (PDF; 106 KB)
- Basel Convention: General Technical Guidelines for the Environmentally Sound Management of Wastes Consisting of, Containing or Contaminated with Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) (PDF; 742 KB)
- Basel Convention: Technical Guidelines for the Environmentally Sound Management of Wastes Consisting of, Containing or Contaminated with Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Polychlorinated Terphenyls (PCTs) or Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs) (PDF; 1910 KB)
- Guidelines for the identification of PCBs and Materials containing PCBs - UNEP Chemicals (1999) (PDF; 289 KB)
Substances Management Information Line
Chemicals Management Plan
Gatineau, QC K1A 0H3
Telephone: 1-800-567-1999 (in Canada) or 819-938-3232
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