polychlorinated biphenyl or PCB, any of a group of organic compounds originally widely used in industrial processes but later found to be dangerous environmental pollutants. Polychlorinated biphenyl is a fat-soluble, water-insoluble hydrocarbon containing chlorine. It is extremely stable, withstanding temperatures of up to 1,600°F (870°C), is fire-resistant, and has been used as a heat-transfer and insulating fluid in cooling systems and electrical equipment; it has also been used in sealants, rubber, paints, plastics, printing ink, and insecticides. The chemical has entered the environment largely as a pollutant from equipment leaks, the weathering of many materials that contain PCB, and through interaction with food products. PCBs are not readily biodegradable. Production has been banned in several industrialized countries; the United States stopped producing PCBs in 1977.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.