The Potential Dangers of PCBs: Immune System Suppression in Humans and Animals

The use of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs has long been banned by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. This ban came in the late 1970s, when the controversy about PCBs manufacturer Monsanto came to a full boil. According to discussions that circulated around the time, the production of toxic Monsanto PCBs was found to have caused considerable devastation to the environment. The government also raised concerns about health risks caused by the toxic chemical substance, which were then widely used as coolants for a variety of commercial and industrial applications.

One major health risk posed by PCBs is damage to the immune system, which plays a vital role in fighting infections and diseases in both human and animals. The fact that PCB exposure can leave animals or people vulnerable to aggressive medical conditions like inflammatory diseases and cancer is particularly alarming. According to a fact sheet by the Environmental Protection Agency, a study conducted on Rhesus monkeys—a species that share around 93 percent of their DNA sequence with humans—shows that PCB exposure can cause the thymus gland to significantly shrink in size. Scientific tests on other animals also show that PCBs can slow down the production of important antibodies and other essential immune system elements, causing a decreased resistance to viruses and other infections.

The EPA fact sheet also points to a recent study conducted on humans that showed how increased PCB exposure can increase health risks for individuals infected with Epstein-Barr virus. The study concluded that those exposed to PCB and was infected with the virus saw increased chances of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Immune system suppression caused by PCB exposure can also increase the risk of cancer.

Immune system suppression isn’t the only health risk caused by PCBs. Prolonged PCB exposure can also effect the reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems. PCBs have also been found to cause liver damage, high blood pressure, among other serious medical conditions.

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