Investigating PCB Exposure Risks: United States Navy

Key takeaways:

  • U.S. Navy veterans are at risk of PCB exposure from old electrical equipment, improper disposal, and accidents on naval bases.
  • PCBs can cause health issues like skin disorders, immune system problems, gastrointestinal symptoms, and possibly cancer in those exposed.
  • Drinking water supplies on naval bases may be contaminated with PCBs from sinking exercises or industrial sources upstream.

What are the risks of PCB Exposure to members of the U.S. Navy?

On this page, we’ll discuss the risks of PCB Exposure in the U.S. Navy, negative health effects of PCBs, identifying the signs of PCB Exposure symptoms, and much more.

Who is at Risk from PCB Exposure in the US Navy

Intro to PCB Exposure: U.S. Navy

This exposure can occur through various means, including maintenance activities and operations onboard ships and submarines, especially those conducted prior to 1977.

Key aspects of the risks of PCB exposure to members of the US Navy:

  • Veterans at risk of PCB exposure are those who worked on the repair and maintenance of PCB transformers, capacitors, and conduits before 1977.
  • PCBs can cause skin conditions, liver damage, and other health problems.
  • Risk assessment was conducted for both shipyard workers and crew members.

If you or a loved one have experienced negative health effects after being exposed to PCB in the United States Navy, it is important to consult legal professionals.

Contact TruLaw using the chat on this page for a free case evaluation to see if you qualify to file a PCB Exposure Lawsuit today.

Table of Contents

Why Is PCB Exposure a Concern for Those Serving in the U.S. Navy?

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) exposure in the United States Navy has been a significant concern, particularly for veterans who worked on the repair and maintenance of PCB transformers, capacitors, and conduits before 1977.

PCBs on naval vessels and military equipment pose a significant threat due to the EPA’s classification of them as probable human carcinogens.

Veterans at risk of PCB exposure

Veterans who worked on the repair and maintenance of PCB transformers, capacitors, and conduits before the ban in 1977 are at risk of exposure.

Due to the nature of their duties, those who had direct contact with these equipment types are at a higher risk.

Details about these veterans include:

  • They were likely exposed during repair and maintenance tasks.
  • The biggest risks were skin conditions and liver damage due to PCB exposure.
  • The VA provides resources for these veterans to seek information and assistance, including healthcare providers and compensation benefits for health problems related to PCB exposure.

Health risks of PCB exposure

PCBs can cause a variety of health problems, from skin conditions to liver damage.

The most common health problems associated with PCB exposure are:

  • Skin conditions such as acne and rashes.
  • Liver damage can lead to serious health issues if left untreated.
  • Other potential health issues related to PCB exposure are under investigation, with resources available for evaluation and support.

Risk assessment for shipyard workers and crew members

A probabilistic risk assessment was conducted for both shipyard workers and crew members.

The level of risk was determined to be acceptable for both active duty and shipyard workers.

Key findings from the risk assessment include:

  • No samples were identified with PCB in the vapor phase, therefore inhalation was not considered a pathway of concern.
  • Dermal exposure was found to be the only potential exposure route.
  • The level of risk was determined to be acceptable for both active duty and shipyard workers.

Investigating PCB exposure risks in the US Navy reveals that the most at-risk individuals are those who worked on the repair and maintenance of PCB transformers, capacitors, and conduits before 1977.

Exposure to PCB chemicals could lead to health issues such as skin conditions and liver damage.

However, a risk assessment conducted for shipyard workers and crew members found the level of risk to be acceptable for both groups.

How Do PCBs Enter the Environment on Naval Bases?

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) enter naval environments through various channels.

These toxic substances pose serious risks to human health and are of particular concern for U.S. Navy veterans.

  • Leaking Electrical Equipment: Old electrical devices like transformers and capacitors, which may contain PCB mixtures, can leak. The PCB-laden oil seeps into the ground and contaminates soil and water sources.
  • Improper Disposal: PCB disposal facilities may not follow strict protocols on some bases. Improperly discarded items containing PCBs contribute to environmental contamination.
  • Accidents and Spills: Incidental spills during maintenance or accidents involving equipment with PCBs can release these chemicals into the base environment.
  • Consuming Contaminated Food: Service members might eat contaminated fish or dairy products from local areas where PCB exposures have accumulated in the food chain.
  • SINKEX Activities: Training exercises called “Ship SINKEX” involve sinking decommissioned vessels that may still have remnants of PCB-containing materials, leading to ocean contamination.
  • Airborne Distribution: Volatile PCB congeners can become airborne during heat or burning operations, spreading contamination through breathing air.
  • Aging Infrastructure: Deteriorating seals and coatings in older buildings often contain PCBs that can crumble and mix with dust particles, subsequently entering the ecosystem through wind or runoff.

What Are the Health Effects of PCBs on U.S. Navy Veterans?

U.S. Navy veterans who worked with or around PCBs may suffer from various health effects due to their exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

Decades of studies suggest that veterans exposed to these chemicals might experience conditions such as skin disorders, including chloracne, a severe skin condition caused by contact with certain chemical compounds.

Symptoms resembling acne but more persistent are a hallmark sign of this condition and can indicate high levels of PCB exposure.

Additionally, evidence points to an association between PCB exposure and issues within the immune system, potentially leading to abnormal blood tests and altered immunity responses.

Some vets have reported changes in eye surface tissues or liver function after being near materials like PCB transformers and capacitors.

Contact through skin or inhalation was likely given the nature of their duties on ships where these chemicals were once widely used.

The implications for U.S. Navy personnel’s long-term health underscore the need for awareness about symptoms related to PCB contamination.

Health professionals recommend regular medical check-ups, including screening for early indicators of diseases linked to pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Identifying signs of PCB exposure remains crucial for those who served aboard vessels where these substances were present.

How Do You Identify Signs of PCB Exposure in U.S. Navy Veterans?

PCB exposure in U.S. Navy veterans can lead to adverse health effects such as gastrointestinal symptoms, nausea, epigastric distress, and pain.

Here are some signs to identify PCB exposure in U.S. Navy veterans:

  • Persistent headaches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Skin rashes or irritation
  • Chronic fatigue and weakness
  • Respiratory issues such as coughing or shortness of breath
  • Neurological symptoms like memory loss or confusion
  • Elevated liver enzymes in blood tests

When Can PCBs Enter Drinking Water Supplies on Naval Bases?

PCBs can enter drinking water supplies on naval bases through the sinking exercise program and non-Navy upstream industrial sources, contributing to potential contamination.

The primary sources of environmental contaminants in naval base sediments are historical discharges and non-Navy upstream industrial sources.

This poses a risk of PCBs entering the water supply, necessitating thorough monitoring and mitigation efforts to safeguard the health of personnel and surrounding communities.

To reduce PCB exposure among U.S. Navy personnel, it is crucial to implement stringent protocols for handling these hazardous substances, particularly in areas with a high probability of contamination from both Navy-related activities and external industrial sources.

Additionally, regular testing of drinking water supplies can help identify any presence of PCBs, allowing for prompt remediation measures.

What Measures Can Be Taken to Reduce PCB Exposure Among U.S. Navy Personnel?

After understanding when PCBs can enter drinking water supplies on naval bases, it’s important to consider measures that can be taken to reduce exposure among U.S. Navy personnel.

Here are some actionable steps to mitigate PCB exposure:

  1. Implementing strict safety protocols for handling and disposing of PCB-containing materials and equipment.
  2. Conducting regular monitoring and testing of water, soil, and air for PCB contamination on naval bases.
  3. Providing comprehensive training programs to educate Navy personnel about the risks of PCB exposure and how to minimize it.
  4. Developing and enforcing stringent regulations for using and disposing of PCBs in naval operations.
  5. Utilizing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, masks, and appropriate clothing when working in environments potentially contaminated with PCBs.
  6. Medical screenings and health assessments are offered for U.S. Navy personnel to detect early signs of PCB exposure-related health issues.
  7. Implementing proper waste management practices to prevent the release or leakage of PCBs into the environment.

What Legal Recourses Exist for U.S. Navy Veterans Affected by PCBs?

U.S. Navy veterans affected by PCBs have legal recourses available, including the ability to file a claim for disability compensation related to health problems resulting from PCB exposure during military service.

Additionally, the Department of Defense is working towards better identification and monitoring of equipment containing PCBs, aiming to reduce risks to health and the environment.

To fight against the adverse effects of PCB contamination in naval environments, affected veterans must be aware of their legal rights and seek proper support when needed.

It’s essential for ongoing initiatives within the Department of Defense to continue progressing, promoting safer conditions for all those serving in the U.S. Navy.

Why Do Some Naval Bases Pose a Higher Risk of PCB Contamination?

Some naval bases pose a higher risk of PCB contamination due to the potential release of PCBs into the marine environment.

The EPA regulations for PCBs do not apply to U.S. military installations overseas, potentially increasing the risk of exposure.

Shipyard workers may face slightly higher risks of exposure to PCBs due to higher exposure concentrations and contact.

The potential presence and release of commercial PCB mixtures in naval base settings and the lack of stringent environmental regulations in some overseas locations contribute to an elevated risk of PCB contamination in these areas.

Additionally, shipyard activities involving electrical transformers and capacitors can increase workers’ exposure levels.

This heightens the likelihood of adverse health effects associated with PCB exposure.


Implementing practical measures to minimize exposure can significantly impact overall health and well-being.

Raising awareness about this issue can ensure a safer environment for all those connected with the U.S. Navy.

Additionally, seeking legal guidance from a PCB lawsuit attorney becomes essential if there is substantial evidence of significant PCB contamination in the environment where the veteran was exposed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What Are PCBs, and How Might They Affect Health?

    Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are environmental toxins associated with an increased risk of cancer, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

    Exposure can also lead to other toxic responses in humans, like changes in menstrual cycle length and immune effects.

  • Who is Most at Risk for PCB Exposure in the U.S. Navy?

    During maintenance or removal of PCB-containing equipment, such as capacitors, U.S. Navy workers and exposed workers may face a higher risk due to direct contact with these chemicals.

  • Can Eating Fish Lead to PCB Exposure?

    Yes, consuming PCB-contaminated fish from affected lakes or coastal areas can be a significant source of exposure; public health records indicate that these pollutants accumulate over time in both fish and humans.

  • Are There Medical Tests Available for Detecting PCBs?

    Medical tests can detect certain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in your blood, especially if you’ve been recently exposed to PCBs through skin contact or by eating contaminated food items such as rice oil.

  • What Populations Should be Cautious About Potential Occupational Carcinogens Like PCBs?

    Occupational safety measures must prioritize factory workers handling PCB capacitors, pregnant mothers and children exposed occupationally, and communities living near sites where PCBs occurred historically.

Written By:
Jessie Paluch
Jessie Paluch

Experienced Attorney & Legal SaaS CEO

With over 25 years of legal experience, Jessie is an Illinois lawyer, a CPA, and a mother of three.  She spent the first decade of her career working as an international tax attorney at Deloitte.

In 2009, Jessie co-founded her own law firm with her husband – which has scaled to over 30 employees since its conception.

In 2016, Jessie founded TruLaw, which allows her to collaborate with attorneys and legal experts across the United States on a daily basis. This hypervaluable network of experts is what enables her to share reliable legal information with her readers!

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