Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Pennsylvania
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Pennsylvania Project

Distribution of PCB Congeners in Pennsylvania Streams and Fish: Implications for Risk Assessment and Fish Health

September 2009 - December 2011


Participating Agencies

  • Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of man-made organic chemicals that have been widely used in industry throughout the world. PCBs have adverse health effects on organisms, including disrupting the immune, reproductive, endocrine, and nervous systems. Although banned in the United States in the late 1970s, PCBs remain a global threat to environmental and human health. The deleterious effects of PCBs are largely due to the properties of these chemicals including, (1) their long lifetimes (persistence) in the environment (including water, sediment and organisms), (2) their ability to reach high concentrations in predatory species, including fish (i.e. bioaccumulate), and (3) their potential for long-range transport through air and water. Because a primary sink of PCB deposition is in aquatic environments, the effects of these chemicals on aquatic life and the potential threat to human health through fish consumption remains a concern. Although PCBs have been extensively studied over the past several decades, there remains uncertainty regarding the dynamics of specific PCB congeners in aquatic organisms. Much of this uncertainty stems from earlier studies relying on measures of total PCBs to assess health effects instead of evaluating individual congener dynamics. Therefore, the objectives of this study are to: 1. Quantify the effects of lipid depletion on PCB congener dynamics and the subsequent effects on the health of channel catfish. 2. Reassess streams that were historically contaminated with PCBs and quantify any remaining PCB congeners in both stream sediments and fish communities. This research will advance knowledge of PCB congener dynamics in fish and in the environment as well as inform future environmental health policy.