Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 21, Issue 10, pp 6419–6433

Historical reconstruction of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) exposures for workers in a capacitor manufacturing plant

  • Nancy B. Hopf
  • Avima M. Ruder
  • Martha A. Waters
PCB mixtures in a complex world

DOI: 10.1007/s11356-013-1590-4

Cite this article as:
Hopf, N.B., Ruder, A.M. & Waters, M.A. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2014) 21: 6419. doi:10.1007/s11356-013-1590-4


We developed a semiquantitative job exposure matrix (JEM) for workers exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at a capacitor manufacturing plant from 1946 to 1977. In a recently updated mortality study, mortality of prostate and stomach cancer increased with increasing levels of cumulative exposure estimated with this JEM (trend p values = 0.003 and 0.04, respectively). Capacitor manufacturing began with winding bales of foil and paper film, which were placed in a metal capacitor box (pre-assembly), and placed in a vacuum chamber for flood-filling (impregnation) with dielectric fluid (PCBs). Capacitors dripping with PCB residues were then transported to sealing stations where ports were soldered shut before degreasing, leak testing, and painting. Using a systematic approach, all 509 unique jobs identified in the work histories were rated by predetermined process- and plant-specific exposure determinants; then categorized based on the jobs’ similarities (combination of exposure determinants) into 35 job exposure categories. The job exposure categories were ranked followed by a qualitative PCB exposure rating (baseline, low, medium, and high) for inhalation and dermal intensity. Category differences in other chemical exposures (solvents, etc.) prevented further combining of categories. The mean of all available PCB concentrations (1975 and 1977) for jobs within each intensity rating was regarded as a representative value for that intensity level. Inhalation (in microgram per cubic milligram) and dermal (unitless) exposures were regarded as equally important. Intensity was frequency adjusted for jobs with continuous or intermittent PCB exposures. Era-modifying factors were applied to the earlier time periods (1946–1974) because exposures were considered to have been greater than in later eras (1975–1977). Such interpolations, extrapolations, and modifying factors may introduce non-differential misclassification; however, we do believe our rigorous method minimized misclassification, as shown by the significant exposure–response trends in the epidemiologic analysis.


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) Job exposure matrix (JEM) 



Environmental Protection Agency


Geometric mean


International Agency for Research on Cancer


Industrial hygienist


Job exposure matrix


National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health


Polychlorinated biphenyls


Polychlorinated dibenzofurans


Personal protective equipment


Standardized mortality ratio


Standardized relative risk



Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nancy B. Hopf
    • 1
  • Avima M. Ruder
    • 2
  • Martha A. Waters
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Work and Health (IST)Epalinges-LausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)CincinnatiUSA
  3. 3.Institute for Work and Health (IST)LausanneSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations