Recent research by Dr. James R. Allen and Deborah Barsotti of the University of Wisconsin Medical School has demonstrated that even very low PCB levels are dangerous to primates. The scientists started with six rhesus monkeys that ate food containing 25 ppm of Aroclor 1248 for two months. They developed facial swelling, loss of hair—including eyelashes—and acne lesions within a month, and one monkey died from PCB intoxication two months after going off the experimental diet. In another experiment, Barsotti and Allen fed two groups of rhesus monkeys food containing five ppm and 2.5 ppm of Aroclor 1248. Within two months, both groups had lost hair from the face and neck, and their skin was of "a sandpaperlike texture." Both groups developed acne, although the "2.5-ppm group developed the lesions later in time as the PCBs accumulated." In six months both groups reached a steady state concentration of PCBs in adipose tissue. They were then bred to control monkeys that had not been fed PCBs. Six of the eight five-ppm females became pregnant (in contrast to the 12 females in the control group, which was not fed PCBs), four of the six aborted or resorbed the fetus, one gave birth to a stillborn and one to a very undersized infant. All eight in the group of 2.5-ppm females conceived, and of these, three resorbed the fetus and five gave birth to undersized infants. In the light of these findings, it appears relevant that EPA's present calculation is that 50% of the human population of the U.S. now contains one to three ppm of PCBs in its fatty tissues.
What is to be done? Conservation groups are discussing lawsuits, and one organization, the Hudson River Sloop Restoration Inc., has asked Russell Train, the administrator of EPA, to use emergency powers to halt the G.E. discharges. Demand for a nationwide ban on PCBs may be forthcoming, but how PCBs will be removed from ecosystems is not yet known. On his own authority, Ogden Reid is expected to issue an immediate order requiring G.E. to reduce its PCB discharges into the Hudson to zero by Dec. 31, 1976. It is a move in the right direction. By this week would have been better.