PCB'S in Natural Gas

Gas Utilities Dump PCBs Inside Customer Homes

AUTHOR: Richard F. Sowinski

SPONSOR: Natural Gas Filtration Corporation


Sources of PCBs are so well documented that scientists agree with the latest findings: More PCBs keep surfacing than can be accounted from known sources. The key words are: "accounted from known sources."

Large amounts of polychlorinated biphenlys (PCBs) have been found in gas utility pipes across the nation.


The gas industry has known about this for years and have taken elaborate steps to cover-up this information. As one industry source commented, "It's not good for our business to have this made public."


State of California Issues Public Gas Warning

The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, commonly referred to as Proposition 65, requires the Governor to publish a list of chemicals "known to the State to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm " It also requires California businesses to warn the public quarterly of potential exposures to these chemicals which result from their operations.

California gas utilities uses chemicals in their operations that are "known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm."

For example, gas utilities uses fossil fuels (natural gas and petroleum products) in their operations. The combustion of fossil fuels can generate by-products such as carbon monoxide, soot, and formlaldhyde. These chemicals are "known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm." Use of natural gas in home or commercial appliances can also produce these combustion by-products. Properly operating gas appliances create less carbon monoxide and soot.

Gas utilities conduct sandblasting at compressor stations, which can release sand. Sand naturally contains crystalline silica, a chemical "known to the State of California to cause cancer"

Natural gas, in its original state, contains radon and benzene, chemicals "known to the State of California to cause cancer." It also contains toluene, a chemical "known to the State of California to cause reproductive harm." Radon does not burn but is released with the combustion by-products. Radon and natural gas combustion by-products can generally be removed through appliance vents and other exhaust systems.

A warning odorant is added to natural gas so that leaks of unburned gas can be quickly detected. If gas odor is detected, the gas utility should be contacted promptly.

PCBs Omitted From State Warning

Left out of California's PROP 65 gas warning, is the discovery of large amounts of PCBs that have been recorded in gas utility pipes. The first disclosure happened on August 26, 1981 in San Francisco.

S.F.Chronicle August 26, 1981

A construction worker accidently cut into an underground high pressure gas pipe. The result, oil sprayed into the air coating the sourrounding area with oil containing PCBs. Buildings were coated with such high concentrations of PCBs forcing them to be sealed off. Other buildings were closed for a year while surface marble and concrete were replaced before occupation was be allowed.

In 1991 the EPA filed a $14 million law suit in Chicago against Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Company (SIGECO). SIGECO was found guilty of pumping PCB oil into customers homes, plugging their gas appliances. EPA found high concentrations of PCBs in over 300 homes.

Recently, the University of Pennsylvania announced a joint research project with the Gas Research Institute (GRI). They want to develop a chemical that will wash PCBs out of gas pipes. The problem with this mentality is - too little to late. Such an approach just adds another chemical substance to an already contaminated gas stream. PCBs are known to tenaciously stick to any surface they contact and are slowly released over time.

Curiously, the media has not reported this PCB contaminated pipe washing effort. Nor has there been any media attention to California's PROP 65 contaminated gas warning. Why not? Isn't such information important to the health and safety of the nation?

Since the 1960's, reports of PCB exposures continue to accumulate. From the PCB soil contamination of Times Beach, Missouri to Niagara Falls' Love Canal. PCBs were banned from use in the U.S. in the early 70's. What's puzzling investigators: PCB detection levels continue at a steady rate, years after their use was stopped in this country. PCB exposure of the smallest amount poses serious health risks.

When pressed, the gas industry admits "some PCBs" entered our gas pipes from "compressor blow-by." Apparently the industry used compressor oils containing PCBs which bypassed the valve seals and contaminated major pipoelines. Compressor "blow-by" may be one source of PCBs entering the pipes - but it's not the only source.

What the industry won't acknowledge - is the fact that vast amounts of PCB oils were deliberately injected into gas pipes as an "oil fogging" procedure from the 1950's thru the mid 70's. With over 25 years of PCB fogging - millions of miles of gas pipes now hold tons of PCBs. Here is the mysterry source of PCBs investigators have not been able to locate. SEE: "Our Stolen Future" by Colborn, Dumanoski and Myers

It's standard industry practice to inject a fine mist of oil fog into underground metal gas pipes to retard rust and corrosion. Many large utilities are both gas and electric distributors. These combined utilities found they were accumulating large volumes of used PCB transformer oil from their electric divisions. Management surmised that waste transformer PCB oils could be used by their gas divisions to "fog" underground gas pipes.

Since the oil was already paid for by the electrical division, it made economic sense to dispose of the used PCB oil into the gas division's pipes. Back in the 1950's there was no concern about the pollution effects of PCB exposure.

Over time, such fogging procedures pumped more and more PCB oil into utility pipes. Because the gas industry is a closed fraternity, word spread about this free fogging-oil, resulting in gas pipes being contaminated with PCBs throughout the nation and across the globe.

Apparently the supply of used transformer PCB oil outpaced the utilities' ability to dispose of it. The record shows that PCB oils were used as a dust retardant and sprayed on roads and open ground surrounding utility work areas, similar to Times Beach.

PCBs readily adhere to any surface they contact, they tolerate extreme heat over prolonged periods of time and they do not degrade. Not exactly the kind of product one wants burning inside our home.

As a gas pipe rust coating, PCBs proved they could protect pipes better than any product available. Sources within the gas industry confide: "After 25 years of injecting PCB into gas pipes - all of the nation's gas pipes are permanently coated by now."


The Sate of California warns that natural gas is contaminated by Benzene, Toluene, Radon and Odorants that produce Carbon Monoxide, Soot and Formaldehyde. What California does not warn us about: What happens when these toxic chemicals combine inside the pipe. More importantly, what happens when these chemicals combine with the PCBs - and are burned inside our homes.

For help, we look to a recent report published January, 1991 in the Enviromental Science and Technology (ES&T;) magazine. Researchers from Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) in Pasadena tested gas flames from a residential stove in Pasadena. They found over seventy chemicals filled the room after turning the gas flame on. None of these chemicals are listed in California's PROP 65 Gas Warning.

We shouldn't expect these 70 chemicals to be listed, because they are produced after passing through the flame. The PROP 65 warning only applies to products sold in California (before they are used)- that contain chemicals know to cause cancer, birth defects or reprocductive harm. Such a legal difference poses significant risks to consumers unaware of the dangers associated with using contaminated natural gas indoors.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are carcinogenic compounds formed by incomplete fuel combustion. Formaldehyde production from incomplete gas combustion is such an example. Formaldehyde, if you recall, is listed in the PROP 65 Warning. Formaldehyde is not present the in gas - it's produced as a byproduct of gas combustion.

SOOT - is also produced by natural gas combustion. SOOT is a serious indoor pollution source according to the EPA. EPA is working to reduce soot production from other sources - why not from gas combustion indoors?

PM10s is area EPA and scientists are very concerned about. PM10 stands for Particulate Matter ten microns in size or smaller. PM10 is a standard the EPA has set as the maximum size allowed for human exposure. Particulates are small particulates (soot), smaller than ten microns which can be inhaled into the deeper portions of our lungs. SOOT and PM10s are produced when gas is burned indoors.

Consider the soot warning in PROP 65. Add any number of the chemicals listed which attach themselves to soot particulates. Now consider these gas-soot particles - that also contain Radon decay daughters mixed into the gas-soot entering our indoor air.

Such radio active gas-soot particles can be inhaled into the deeper portions of our lungs where they stick the to tissue and radiate the surrounding cells. Such cellular damage breaks down the lung's defense mechanisms allowing toxic chemicals to enter our body. Could there be a contaminated gas correlation with statitics showing higher cancer rates?


Incineration of PCBs requires strict time and temperature controls. Because PCBs resist high temperatures for prolonged periods of time, they are extremely hard to destroy. The EPA has determined in order to destroy PCBs, they must be kept for a minimum of ten seconds at 2,100 degrees for proper destruction.

Such temperatures don't exist in the typical home gas appliance. At best, any chemical passing through a home gas appliance is exposed to tenths of a second of flame contact. Such temperature and residence time in the flame are inadequate for any hazwaste destruction, let alone PCBs.

Home gas appliances are not designed for incineration or disposal of PCBs or any other chemical hazwaste. Nor is the interior of ones home a suitable place for incineration, disposal and storage of such toxic waste.

Unfortunately for the public, hazwaste from the gas utility is partially combusted and forms new and ever more dangerous combustion products than are fed into the flame. We know PAHs are produced by gas combustion because they show up in the ES&T; report.

What has not been reported: Partial PCB combustion, which forms DIOXINS which partially combust and form FURANS. Herein lies the unreported, undisclosed source of continued DIOXIN and FURAN findings.

More research is being reported on DIOXINs. Almost no work has been reported on FURAN production indoors.

The Solution

There is a solution to contaminated natural gas. Filter the gas before burning it indoors. Similar to filtering our drinking water or filtering the furnace air before it enters our indoor environment. A specially designed natural gas filter has been developed and patented. Look for licensed filter manufacturers to supply such filters.

More Questions

Gascape's Reference Database© | Index | Home