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A chemical mystery in the Great Lakes

Apr 10, 2018

The Great Lakes.
Credit National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Polychlorinated biphenyls are toxic chemicals that were widely used in industry until they were banned in the 1970s.

PCBs can build up in fish.

A new study finds that levels of PCBs are declining in the air in the Great Lakes region. Except for one kind. It’s called PCB-11 and its levels are holding steady.

Ron Hites is a professor at Indiana University. He says researchers believe PCB-11 comes from yellow pigments and the way some yellow pigments are produced.

"A byproduct of that production leads to then PCB-11. So when you find PCB-11 it’s probably related to yellow pigments being used somewhere,” he says.

Hites says this suggests PCB-11 is still leaking into the environment, and he says he’s working to figure out where exactly the chemicals are coming from. One possibility he's investigating: the yellow paint that's used to make the stripes on roadways.

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