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How are PCBs Regulated?


In the United States, PCBs are mainly regulated at the federal level through several different laws. The most significant of these laws is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Enacted by Congress in 1976, TSCA granted the U.S. EPA the authority to ban the manufacture of PCBs and regulate its use and disposal. The U.S. EPA accomplished this by issuing regulations in 1978 and several rules over the years. The regulations banned the manufacture and import of PCBs in 1979 but allowed the continued use of PCBs in certain types of electrical equipment. This was based on a finding by the U.S. EPA that such uses do not pose an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment, provided certain use conditions are met. Thus, some PCB-containing equipment remains in service and in use today. These are known as “authorized uses” by the U.S. EPA.

In 1998, the Disposal Amendments were published in the Federal Registry to regulate the characterization, cleaning up, containment and disposal of PCBs. Found in 40 CFR Parts 750 and 761, these amendments are commonly referred to as the "Mega Rule". 

Regulatory agencies have developed conservative, generic, screening levels that are considered to be “safe” levels of chemicals to which people can be exposed under most circumstances. These are levels to which people could be exposed without suffering health effects. Higher (and still health protective) levels could be developed on a site-specific basis. These levels take specific characteristics of the site into account.

Under TSCA, the U.S. EPA has established acceptable levels for PCBs in soil and on surfaces (such as floors, walls, tanks, pipes, etc.). The applicable level depends on whether the soil or surface is accessible and how frequently it is accessed. For example, exposed PCB-impacted soil can have different acceptable levels than if it were covered with 6 inches of concrete. TSCA has also established higher acceptable levels for areas defined as “low occupancy”. In these areas, workers may be present for 6.7 hours or fewer each week during a worker’s lifetime.


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