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U.S. EPA Reassesses PCB Use Authorizations

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) banned the manufacturing and further use of PCBs in the late 1970s. Yet, the rules authorized specific types of existing, PCB-containing equipment to remain in use because they were not found to present an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. Mainly certain types of electrical equipment and natural gas pipeline systems, it was assumed that the authorized equipment would be phased out over the years. However, much of this equipment is still in use today. Because this equipment is several decades old, increasingly prone to leaks and failures, and near the end of their useful lives, the U.S. EPA initiated a reassessment of PCB use authorizations in April 2008.  

Afterwards, the U.S. EPA published Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs); Reassessment of Use Authorizations in the Federal Register as an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in April 2010. The intention is to restrict or eliminate some of the equipment that is currently considered an authorized use because it can no longer be justified under section 6(e) of TSCA, which requires that the authorized use will not present an unreasonable risk of injury to health and the environment. The reassessment will take into account the relevance of the use, current human health studies and the increased risk to human health and the environment. 

The U.S. EPA is proposing a broad range of phase-outs, use restrictions, information requests, notification requirements, inspections and registrations for currently authorized PCB-containing equipment. Electric utility and natural gas pipeline companies will be most impacted by these proposed laws. However, schools, manufacturers, waste management companies, remediation services companies and building owners are likely to be affected by this reassessment as well. 

Currently, the reassessment of PCB use authorizations remains in the Pre-proposal Stage of the rulemaking process. However, since publishing the ANPRM in 2010, the EPA has held six public meetings and accepted public comments for incorporation into the impending proposed rule. It is projected that the EPA will officially propose the rule in October 2017, when they are anticipated to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register.

Listed below are a few potential changes to the current regulations:

Mainly Affecting Electric Utility Companies

  • Phase-out of Askarel equipment within 5 years after the rule
  • Phase-out of oil-filled equipment (≥500 ppm PCBs) within 10 years after the rule
  • Phase-out of oil-filled equipment (≥50 ppm PCBs) within 15 years after the rule
  • Registration of large PCB Capacitors
  • Eliminating equipment storage for reuse, and requiring immediate testing and disposal if ≥50 ppm PCBs
  • Eliminating any servicing of PCB equipment except for reclassification

Mainly Affecting Natural Gas Transmission and Distribution Companies: 

  • Ending the authorization for the storage of PCB equipment for reuse, effective immediately
  • Notifying USEPA when PCBs are found in any pipeline system.
  • Elimination of PCB use authorization for all pipeline systems within 10 years after the rule (therefore, PCB > 50 ppm finding would be a violation)
  • Use authorization standard of 1 ppm for PCBs in air compressor systems 
  • Modification of the cleaning and coating option for PCB spill-impacted porous surface (such as cement)

Other Industries:

  • Elimination of use authorization for PCBs in fluorescent light ballasts
  • Elimination of use authorization for PCBs in carbonless copy paper
  • Authorizing the use of caulk and other non-liquid, in-place building materials (>50 ppm PCBs) 


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