Green Book Review: Biocidal, Confronting the Poisonous Legacy of PCB’s

Author:  Ted Dracos

Publication Date:  2010


In 1962, Rachel Carson stunned the world with the publication of Silent Spring, exposing the lethal character of the pesticide DDT. Her work launched a global campaign against synthetic chemical toxins and veritably created a world environmental movement. But unbeknownst to Carson, an even more insidious chemical cousin to DDT had been silently poisoning the biosphere.

Despite being outlawed in the U.S. since 1976, PCBs are currently found in the remotest corners of Earth and remain the most prevalent group of industrial chemical contaminants in much of the world. Every human being, from the womb to the grave, bears a body burden of these poisonous molecules forever locked in their blood and tissues.

In Biocidal, investigative journalist Ted Dracos tells the full story of PCBs for the first time, starting with the chilling chronicle of how the chemical industry manipulated regulatory agencies and scientific findings for decades to continue to reap huge profits, despite their knowledge of the threats posed by PCB’s.  Dracos draws increasingly disturbing links between PCBs and health impacts ranging from cancer and autism to immunosuppression and reproductive abnormalities.

Biocidal also explores the science behind the threat PCBs pose to Earth’s biodiversity: today, killer whales in the Puget Sound are dying, the eggs of Ontario Lake trout are doomed before they can hatch, 99 percent of the freshwater eels of Europe have disappeared, and frogs around the world are going extinct. While these disasters have many possible causes, evidence pointing to PCBs keeps accumulating, much like the toxins in these animals’ systems.

Our Review:

Biocidal is well written, well researched and an exciting read.  There are a few places where the book gets bogged down for a page or two, but for the most part it’s interesting and informative.  You don’t have to be a scientist or even particularly interested in industrial pollutants to find this a fascinating, easy to understand book.

I never gave PCB’s much thought until I read Biocidal.  Sure, there was the ongoing fight to get GE to clean up the Hudson, but I figured PCB’s have been banned, they are an issue in some places but not all, and they’re getting cleaned up or have been cleaned up, furthermore.  Biocidal systematically, undermines each of those assumptions.  Some forms of PCB’s can last in the environment for hundreds of years so they will continue to be a concern for decades to come.  The highest level of PCB’s in humans aren’t found in people who live near old industrial plants using PCB’s, but, instead are found in Northern Inuit Indians.  Finally, PCB’s are airborne and biomagnify through fish and animal populations so they are everywhere.

Biocidal is a game changer in the world of examining the legacy of industrial pollutants. There is still much work to be done in terms of studying the health effects of PCB’s (possible links to autism, autoimmune diseases such as M.S., definite links to testicular cancer, breast cancer in susceptible populations, and Parkinson’s Disease), PCB storage and removal, and getting politicians to notice that this scourge is still a huge issue for worldwide populations.

Them most frustrating part about this book was learning that there was (and still is) a very cheap environmentally friendly alternative to PCB’s – I won’t tell you what it is, read the book.  It will be worth your while.  Promise.

Overall Score (1 to 10, 10 is best): 9

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