Fabulon: Looking less fabulous

Researchers have tentatively linked polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in people—and their dwellings—with Fabulon, a product used throughout the late 1950s and 1960s as a durable top coat for hardwood floors.

During a survey of 120 homes on Cape Cod, Mass., researchers found two houses with unusually high PCB concentrations in air and house dust. Residents in both homes remembered a sealant that had been applied decades earlier to their floors, notes Ruthann A. Rudel of the Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Mass. Research by her team turned up the PCB-laden recipe for Fabulon, which one resident remembered using.

Best known as oily insulating compounds used in electrical transformers, PCBs have been linked with reproductive harm in animals and IQ losses in children.

Three individuals who had lived in the high-PCB homes for decades carried 650 to 1,520 nanograms of PCBs per gram of fats in their blood. Such values put them in the top 5 percent of PCB-tainted Americans, based on data from a recent national survey.

Refinishing Fabulon-finished flooring appears to offer no panacea, the researchers report in the January Environmental Health. In one home where some floors had recently been refinished, Rudel notes that airborne PCB levels became especially exaggerated.

Overall, dust values for PCBs measured in the two heavily tainted homes ranged from 21 to 190 micrograms per gram (µg/g) of dust—well above the 1 to 10 µg/g maximum values typically reported in other studies. Although no federal health-based limits exist for PCBs in house dust, Rudel’s team notes that a federal limit on PCBs in soil, intended to protect people facing long-term exposure, is only 0.22 µg/g.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

More Stories from Science News on Earth