Toxic substances list: PCBs

Polychlorinated biphenyls, commonly known as chlorobiphenyls or PCBs, are industrials chemicals which were synthesized and commercialized in North America in 1929. They were used in the manufacturing of electrical equipment, heat exchangers, hydraulic systems, and several other specialized applications up to the late 1970s. They were never manufactured in Canada but were widely used in this country.

PCBs are very persistent both in the environment and in living tissue. The most obvious signs of environmental harm caused by PCBs are in aquatic ecosystems and in species that eat primarily aquatic organisms. Because of concern for the environmental and health effects of PCBs, the Canadian government took action to eliminate PCBs from Canada. The import, manufacture, and sale (for re-use) of PCBs were made illegal in Canada in 1977 and release to the environment of PCBs was made illegal in 1985. However, Canadian legislation has allowed owners of PCB equipment to continue using PCB equipment until the end of its service life. The storage of PCBs has been regulated since 1988. Handling, transport and destruction of PCBs are also regulated, mostly under provincial regulations.

Despite the large reductions in PCB inventories since the implementation of regulatory controls, releases of PCBs to the environment through spills and fires continue to occur. If action is not taken to "speed up" the pace of PCB phase-out, Environment Canada is concerned that the goal of elimination of PCBs from Canada may not be reached for another generation. In addition Canada is signatory to several international agreements on the phase-out of a number of persistent toxic substances including PCBs. Environment Canada has therefore repealed the Chlorobiphenyl Regulations and the Storage of PCB Material Regulations on September 5, 2008 and made the PCB Regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999 (CEPA 1999) that set specific dates for the destruction of PCBs in service and in storage.

For information on Canada's international engagement on this substance, please visit:

There is more than one CAS number that applies to this group of substances.

For more information on this substance, please visit the Chemical Substances website.

Risk assessment


This substance is entering the environment from the following sources:

Risk management tools

Tools developed to manage risks associated with the substance:

Other information


Substances Management Information Line
Chemicals Management Plan
Environment and Climate Change Canada
Gatineau, QC K1A 0H3

Telephone: 1-800-567-1999 (in Canada) or 819-938-3232

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