On April 7, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) announcing its intent to reevaluate the regulations governing use and distribution of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in commerce. The proposed rule addresses over 50 issues; many of the proposed changes represent a significant departure from current practices.

Industries potentially impacted include, but are not limited to, electric and natural gas utilities, waste management and remediation services, manufacturing, and railroads. Comments to the ANPRM must be submitted on or before July 6, 2010.

Regulatory Background

PCBs are subject to regulations largely independent from other environmental laws. In 1976, under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA promulgated a series of regulations that placed strict controls on the use, storage and disposal of PCBs. In 1998, a sweeping set of more than 80 changes to these regulations, commonly known as the “Mega-Rule,” was disseminated. There have been no significant changes to the regulatory scheme in more than a decade.

EPA is exercising its authority under the TSCA to reassess whether continuing use authorizations will present an unreasonable risk of injury to public health or the environment. EPA states concern that after 30 years under the current regulatory scheme, PCBs have not been sufficiently reduced to the level anticipated.

Currently, use and service of liquid-filled electrical transformers, railroad transformers, electrical capacitors, electromagnets, voltage regulators, circuit breakers, heat transfer systems, cable, and other equipment are authorized. Liquid PCBs are also currently authorized for use if they are a contaminant in air compressor systems, and in natural gas pipeline systems, contaminated natural gas pipe and appurtenances, and other gas or liquid transmission systems.

Significant Changes Proposed

EPA intends to eliminate or phase out PCB use authorizations. Under the option for phase-out, several restrictions and regulatory measures are being considered, including:

  • Requiring testing of equipment that is stored for reuse or removed from service for any reason, and which is assumed to contain PCBs at concentrations = 50 ppm.
  • Requiring that where such equipment is found to contain PCBs at concentrations = 50 ppm after testing, within 30 days of receiving the test results the owner must either reclassify the equipment to <50 ppm PCBs or designate it for disposal.
  • Eliminating all currently authorized PCB equipment servicing except for reclassification.
  • Requiring marking of all equipment that is known or assumed (in accordance with § 761.2) to contain PCBs at = 50 ppm.
  • Increasing the inspection frequency to a minimum of once every month for non-leaking known or assumed = 500 ppm PCB equipment in use.
  • Before the final phase-out date(s), broadening the prohibition on the use of PCBs in transformers that pose an exposure risk to food or feed to include use of PCB-contaminated transformers.
  • Broadening the definition of “PCB article” to include all equipment containing >0.05 liters (approximately 1.7 fluid ounces) of dielectric fluid with = 50 ppm PCBs, in place of the current definition, which regulates transformers and capacitors containing = 3 pounds of dielectric fluid.
  • Requiring registration of PCB large capacitors containing a specified volume of dielectric fluid or having a specified external volume or dimensions.
  • Eliminating the authorization for storage of PCB equipment for reuse.
  • Eliminating the use authorization for PCBs in carbonless copy paper.
  • Eliminating totally enclosed determination for distribution in commerce.
  • Terminating or significantly limiting the duration of use authorizations for air compressor systems.
  • Eliminating authorization for use of PCBs in railroad transformers at concentrations greater than 1ppm.  

Under the second option, EPA would completely eliminate PCB equipment from service. EPA target time frames for completing the removal of PCB equipment from service are as follows:

  • By 2015, eliminate all use of askarel equipment (=100,000 ppm PCBs), removing from service the equipment in high potential exposure areas first. EPA is considering allowing exceptions on a case-by-case basis on a showing of hardship and no unreasonable risk.
  • By 2020, eliminate all use of oil-filled PCB equipment (= 500 ppm) and the authorization for use of PCBs at = 50 ppm in pipeline systems.
  • By 2025, eliminate all use of any PCB contaminated equipment = 50 ppm, which is still authorized for use.  

EPA has announced a series of public meetings around the country to provide stakeholders with the opportunity to provide comments, data, and information on certain areas of PCB regulations, current practices, and potential costs of the proposed changes. EPA is soliciting active involvement from urban communities it feels are disparately impacted by environmental and health issues associated with PCB releases. Visit their website for more details.