Estimation of the health risks associated with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) concentrations found onboard older U.S. Navy vessels

Appl Occup Environ Hyg. 2003 Oct;18(10):737-58. doi: 10.1080/10473220301444.


PCBs have been identified on surfaces and in component materials and equipment from inactive U.S. Navy nuclear submarines commissioned prior to 1970. Health risks associated with PCBs present onboard submarines were estimated for hypothetical crew members and shipyard workers. Median non-cancer hazard quotients for shipyard workers and submarine crew ranged between 0.4-54.6, with the highest quotients estimated for unprotected shipyard workers. Median cancer risk estimates ranged from 7.3 x 10(-6) to 1.1 x 10(-3) with the highest estimated risk calculated for unprotected shipyard workers. Our findings suggest that PCB surface concentrations found onboard inactive nuclear submarines commissioned prior to 1970 may be high enough to constitute a possible risk to the health of persons involved in dismantling of Navy submarines if PCB exposure is not minimized. Potential sources of uncertainty in our risk assessment include the correlation between PCB contamination levels on inactive versus active nuclear submarine vessels, the relationship between wipe sample concentrations and human exposure, dermal contact frequency with PCB-contaminated surfaces, carcinogenicity of PCBs in humans, and uncertainties inherent with the PCB cancer slope factor and oral RfD. Our findings support Navy policy that shipyard workers should wear personal protective equipment when PCB contamination is suspected or has been identified and that IH surveys should continue to identify sources of PCB contamination onboard vessels and reduce PCB contamination to concentrations that are reasonably achievable.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogens, Environmental / analysis
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / toxicity
  • Hazardous Substances / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Military Personnel
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, U.S.
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity*
  • Risk Factors
  • Ships* / instrumentation
  • United States
  • Workforce


  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Hazardous Substances
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls