The Minister of Environmental Affairs published the 'Regulations to Phase-Out the Use of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) Materials and PCB Contaminated Materials' in GN R549 in Government Gazette 378181 of 10 July 2014 (PCB Regulations).

PCBs can be found in a variety of products, from electrical equipment and building materials to inks and paints and were historically widely used as insulation in electrical equipment, particularly transformers. PCB contaminated material is particularly toxic as PCBs are able to remain in the environment for long periods of time without breaking down. The PCB Regulations prescribe requirements for the phase-out of the use of PCB materials and PCB contaminated materials to ensure that impacts or potential impacts on health, wellbeing, safety and the environment are prevented or minimised.

PCB material is defined in the PCB Regulations as 'oil or articles with a PCB concentration greater than 500mg/kg' and PCB contaminated material is defined as 'oil or articles with PCB concentration greater than 51mg/kg, but less than 500mg/k'.

The PCB Regulations prohibit the use, production, import, export and sale of PCB materials or PCB contaminated materials in South Africa, unless the holder of PCB materials or PCB contaminated materials:

  • has registered the PCB article with the Director-General of the Department of Environmental Affairs within 90 days from 10 July 2014; and
  • has developed a phase-out plan within one year of registration.

The phase-out time frames set by the PCB Regulations prohibit the use of PCB materials or PCB contaminated materials after the year 2023 and prohibit the possession of PCB materials, PCB contaminated materials or PCB waste from 2026. The PCB Regulations also prescribe procedures for testing, labelling, classifying, reclassifying and retro-filling (ie replacing) PCB materials or PCB contaminated materials, as well as annual reporting requirements. A contravention of the PCB Regulations is an offence carrying potential liabilities, upon conviction, of a fine of up to ZAR10 million or a period of imprisonment of up to 10 years.

The PCB Regulations are in line with South Africa's obligations in terms of the Stockholm Convention which requires that signatories are to phase out the use of PCBs by 2025. 

The Stockholm Convention's website describes PCBs as "a class of synthetic organic chemicals" which were "used for a variety of industrial uses because of their chemical stability" and "are fire resistant, have a low electrical conductivity, high resistance to thermal breakdown and a high resistance to oxidants and other chemicals." The website goes on to state that "adverse effects associated to the exposure of PCBs are damage to the immune system, liver, skin, reproductive system, gastrointestinal tract and thyroid gland."