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Polychlorinated Biphenyls Contamination and Related Risks


Assessing Contamination of the Environment with Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Associated Risk for Human Health (Serpukhov Case Study)

Tech Area / Field

  • ENV-MIN/Monitoring and Instrumentation/Environment
  • ENV-EHS/Environmental Health and Safety/Environment
  • ENV-MRA/Modelling and Risk Assessment/Environment

8 Project completed

Registration date

Completion date

Senior Project Manager
Rudneva V Ya

Leading Institute
Scientific & Production Association “Typhoon”, Russia, Kaluga reg., Obninsk


  • European Environment Agency, Denmark, Copenhagen\nEuropean Topic Centre on Inland Waters, UK, Bucks, Medmenham Marlow\nSENES Oak Ridge Inc., USA, TN, Oak Ridge\nMiljo & Energi, Denmark, Silkeborg\nSENES Oak Ridge Inc. / Center for Risk Analysis, USA, TN, Oak Ridge\nHarvard School of Public Health, USA, MA, Boston

Project summary

The production and application of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) has been reduced significantly since their hazard to the environment became recognized. Nevertheless, more than a million tones of PCBs have been accumulated in the world, of which one third is circulating in the environment. Environmental contamination with PCBs is an acute problem in the proximity of facilities, which produced or utilized chemical substances of this group. An example of such contamination is the situation in Serpukhov (Moscow region, Russian Federation), where the condenser plant there used PCBs of the Arochlore 1242 type for almost three decades. Inadequate technology and lack of plant treatment have led to considerable environmental contamination by PCBs. By the time of plant shutdown, PCB levels in women’s breast milk in Serpukhov were tens and hundreds times higher than the safe concentrations recommended by the WHO. Studies conducted ten years after plant shutdown showed that the PCB content in the environment had not decreased noticeably since then. As a result, the epidemiological situation in the vicinity of the plant remains adverse: in the first half of the 90s the incidence rate among children up to 14 years was several times higher in the area of Serpukhov than in the Moscow Region in general. Therefore, environmental contamination with PCBs in the area of Serpukhov is of long-term concern, which requires comprehensive study including experimental works, mathematical modeling, risk assessment and recommendations on risk reduction.

The objective of the Project is to assess the risk associated with long-term exposure to PCBs among people residing in contaminated areas and to elaborate recommendations for risk reduction.

The Project includes the following stages:
– study of migration and transformation of PCBs in the environment;
modeling of migration and transformation of PCBs in the environment;
assessment of risk to human health resulting from environmental contamination with PCBs.

To meet the identified targets under the project the PCB content will be determined in environmental and biological samples, including breast milk and the blood of people residing in the contaminated areas. Based on the analysis of data on environmental levels of PCBs and the incidence rate in the vicinity of Serpukhov, a more specific map of PCB environmental contamination will be prepared and the relationship between environmental levels of PCBs and body burden and health status will be studied.

The following scientific problems will also be solved:
adaptation of existing models and methods of risk assessment to the conditions of areas in which soil is the main source of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), to use them for the area of Serpukhov;
improvement of existing models by providing a more adequate description of the exchange of organic compounds in the system plant/air, to enhance the accuracy of prediction of POP accumulation in plants;
adding models with dependencies of kinetic and equilibrium parameters of organic compound absorption by plants on their physical-chemical properties, with a view to extend the list of POPs, whose accumulation in plants can be predicted;
determination of the probable PCB photochemical degradation rate in cuticular wax;
rectification of the values of parameters of PCB transfer by the food web, to be able to better predict the transfer of contaminants to man.

To achieve the project goals the participating organizations possess all necessary equipment and expertise, including skilled staff and technicians. Measurements of PCBs in environmental samples, among them biological samples, have been conducted by SPA «Typhoon» for about 20 years. SPA «Typhoon» is engaged in experimental study and modeling of the migration and transformation of organic pollutants in the environment. It also performs analysis of the causes and assessment of risks due to environmental contamination. Specialists of SPA «Typhoon» have been involved in international projects on the migration and transformation of PCBs and POPs in the environment (AMAP, EMEP, INTAS).

Results of the project will be conducive to solving problems, which are of importance for both separate countries and the international community in general, namely the assessment of the health risk arising from POP environmental contamination, environmental management and evaluation of POP transboundary transport.