What consumers need to know to protect themselves after a court finds chemical company Monsanto-Bayer responsible for brain damage and other health issues caused by exposure to toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in fluorescent lights.
When we bought our home (built in 1951), one of the very first updates I made was to replace the fluorescent track lights in the kitchen. I opted instead for traditional incandescent fixtures and bulbs.
I knew at the time that the circadian rhythm disrupting blue light, dirty electricity and large EMF field from fluorescent bulbs posed a serious long-term health danger.
Little did I know that the fixtures themselves were the most toxic of all due to the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs.
PCBs in Fluorescent Lights
PCBs belong to a broad family of man-made organic chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons.
These chemicals were domestically manufactured from 1929 until production was banned in 1979. (1)
While food such as contaminated fish is the primary source of PCB exposure to humans, other environmental risks exist as well. (2)
One of the most common and yet frequently overlooked routes for contamination is airborne PCBs.
This hazard continues today despite the fact that the federal government banned them in 1979.
For example, for several decades, fluorescent lights were manufactured using PCBs. Some of these toxic fixtures are still in use in buildings built prior to 1979.
This includes schools, commercial buildings and homes!
Health Risks from PCB Exposure
Occupational and epidemiologic studies demonstrate that adverse health effects from PCB exposure can involve nearly any and all bodily systems including: (3)
- Neurological systems
Teachers Win Lawsuit for Harm from Fluorescent Lights
While PCBs can cause widespread damage, it is the brain damaging neurological effects that formed the crux of a lawsuit by teachers from the Sky Valley Education Center in Monroe, Washington against the chemical manufacturer Monsanto-Bayer.
Rick Friedman, one of the attorneys representing the teachers, said:
This is a big step in holding Monsanto accountable for poisoning every man, woman and child in North America. If politicians won’t make Monsanto clean up its mess, juries will. (4)
The Seattle Times reported that the three teachers were awarded $185 million in compensatory and punitive damages by a King County Superior Court jury. (5)
The award was in excess of the $10 million per teacher and punitive damages of three times the compensatory damages sought by the prosecution.
The trial court made the award after the law firm argued that Monsanto was subject to Missouri law. This is the state where the multinational corporation is headquartered and made its decisions. (5)
More Lawsuits on the Way
The teachers named in the lawsuit are just the tip of the iceberg of what is coming down the pike.
More than 200 teachers, students and parents were exposed to hundreds of fluorescent light fixtures leaking PCBs into the indoor air of the school, which was built in 1950.
The case is the first of nearly two dozen lawsuits representing the claims of these individuals who spent time at the Sky Valley Education Center.
Photos and testimony filed with the court from about a dozen plaintiffs pertaining to medical complications include:
- breathing problems
- heart palpitations
- memory issues
- blisters and peeling skin
- scalp cysts
Contaminated Indoor Air from Leaky Fluorescent Fixtures
At least three teachers submitted air quality reports taken over the years to the court as evidence of contamination of the school from the PCB leaks from the fluorescent fixtures.
This case along with the avalanche of others in the pipeline can hopefully serve as a wake-up call to companies, schools and homeowners that fluorescent fixtures installed prior to 1979 need to be removed immediately by a skilled professional.
For example, I still have an old fluorescent track light in my garage. While I rarely turn it on, I will be having it removed as soon as possible!
Certainly, anyone with unexplained symptoms that could be attributed to PCB poisoning should carefully assess potential environmental exposure via fluorescent lighting in buildings they regularly visit and spend time inside.
Did Monsanto Hide What it Knew?
In a related case, the state of Washington accused Monsanto of hiding what it knew about the harm toxic PCBs pose to human health and the environment. (6)
Of important note is that Monsanto was the ONLY company to produce PCBs from 1929 until they were banned outright in 1979.
Sadly, it seems Monsanto has been harming people long before its 1990s debut of Roundup Ready GMO seeds.
(1) EPA: Learn about Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
(2) Routes of Exposure to PCBs
(3) Adverse Health Effects of PCBs
(4) King County jury awards $185M to 3 teachers who suffered brain damage from toxins at Monroe school
(5) 3 U.S. Teachers Awarded $185 Million from Monsanto for Chemical Exposure
(6) Monsanto sold banned chemicals for years despite known health risks, archives reveal
When nothing else makes sense, look for the money. We have been poisoned in the name of profit in so many ways in the usa and around the world. I just replaced the bulb in a fixture at my late brother’s house and I know it is fitty years old or more. thanks for this information, Sarah.
SUSAN W IVEY
Sarah, we are in a house that was built in ’77 or ’78. It has flourescent lights in the kitchen where I spend hours every day. I read about the dangers of these lights years ago, and had tried to find replacement bulbs that weren’t dangerous. My husband thought I was crazy, but he did replace the bulbs. But, I’m sure they are still the bad kind. Are you saying that replacing just the bulbs, with a better substitute won’t work, but that you have to replace the whole fixture that doesn’t use the long type bulbs? I’m confused. Thanks!
Sarah Pope MGA
Note that it is the fixture itself that is the problem … yes the bulbs are unhealthy too, but the PCBs are coming from the fluorescent fixture.
You need to get an entirely new fixture installed preferably with incandescent bulbs.
How can I tell if my light fixtures have PCBs?
Sarah Pope MGA
If they were manufactured prior to 1980, then they are toxic and should be replaced immediately (by a professional…don’t just tear them out yourself).
Can the pcb exposure from fluorescent lights be mitigated, other than by removal? I’m currently staying in an extended stay hotel with several overhead fluorescent lights in the room. I don’t use the lights, but don’t know if/how the pcbs might “escape” and become airborne.
Do you think encasing the lights in aluminum foil might help? Or some other temporary solution?
Sarah Pope MGA
I really do not know the answer to this question, unfortunately.
Check to see if there is a label on the capacitor, it may say “Contains PCB’s”. Also, if it is a magnetic ballast, 5he capacitor could be unmarked but still contain PCB’s.
I believe you can change out the capacitor in your light.
Hope that helps!