Hazardous and Solid Waste

Lamp Recycler Fined for PCB Violations

According to EPA, the facility is permitted under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to manage and store PCB wastes. Separate permits allow the facility to recycle fluorescent lamps and ballasts, batteries, electronic wastes, and mercury devices. The facility also manages non-PCB ballasts, phosphorous powders, aerosol cans, and mercury-containing wastes. The company operates facilities in five states and is one of the nation’s largest ballast processors.

EPA inspections in 2008 and 2012 found that the Phoenix facility had not effectively decontaminated its PCB-handling area, documented the transport and disposal of PCB-contaminated materials, or properly labeled PCB and hazardous waste containers.

What Are PCBs?

PCBs are synthetic chemicals that were manufactured for use in various commercial applications because of their nonflammability, chemical stability, and electrical insulation properties. Among the generic names for PCBs are Askarel® (PCB liquids in transformers and capacitors), Therminol® (PCB liquids in heat transfer systems), and Pydraul® (PCB liquids in hydraulic systems).

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Concern over PCB toxicity led Congress to enact Section 6(e) of TSCA in 1976, which limits the manufacture, processing, and distribution of PCBs. When released into the environment, PCBs persist for many years and bioaccumulate in organisms. EPA has classified PCBs as probable human carcinogens. Long-term effects of PCB exposure include harm to the nervous and reproductive system, immune system suppression, hormone disruption, and skin and eye irritation.

In 1979, PCBs were banned for all uses except "totally enclosed uses," such as in transformers, capacitors, vacuum pumps, and hydraulic fluids. There is also a global effort under an international treaty, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), to phase out specific pollutants, including PCBs.

Regulated Substances

Substances that are regulated include, but are not limited to, dielectric fluids, solvents, oils, waste oils, heat transfer fluids, hydraulic fluids, paints or coatings, sludges, slurries, sediments, dredge spoils, soils, materials that contain PCBs as a result of spills, and other chemical substances or combinations of substances, including impurities and by-products, and any by-product, intermediate, or impurity manufactured at any point in a process. In addition, caulk containing potentially harmful PCBs was used in many buildings, including schools, in the 1950s through the late 1970s. EPA has published guidance for school administrators and building managers with information about managing PCBs in caulk.

Examples of the types of facilities that could potentially be regulated by TSCA‘s PCB rules include chemical manufacturers, electro-industry manufacturers (businesses that primarily manufacture electrical products), end-users of electricity, PCB waste handlers (e.g., storage facilities, landfills, and incinerators), waste transporters, and general contractors.

The regulatory requirements that apply to materials containing PCBs depend in part on the PCB concentration. To ensure a consistent basis for determining PCB concentrations, 40 CFR 761.1(b)(4) provides that the concentration of nonliquid PCBs must be determined on a dry weight basis, the concentration of liquid PCBs must be determined on a wet weight basis, and the concentration of multiphasic (both nonliquid and liquid) PCBs must be determined by separating the phases and analyzing each phase.

To identify what regulatory requirements apply to a material that contains PCBs, a person has two options: either to determine the PCB concentration and apply the regulations specified for that concentration and type of material, or to assume the concentration to be 500 parts per million (ppm) or greater. Under the second option, it is not necessary to determine the PCB concentration of the material, but the most restrictive regulatory requirements apply (40 CFR 761.50(a)(5)).

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Concentrations Less than 50 ppm

The 50 ppm cutoff for intentionally generated PCBs remains effective, and with a few exceptions, substances containing PCBs in concentrations below 50 ppm are exempted from regulation. However, since TSCA does not delegate authority to the states, a facility may have to comply with both EPA and state regulations. Many states have set more restrictive concentrations below the federal 50 ppm concentration. Although the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations do not apply to PCBs, states may list and regulate PCBs as hazardous waste under their state RCRA programs. In addition, certain hazardous wastes containing PCBs are subject to the state’s land disposal restrictions.

Be sure to check with both your state agency and your regional EPA office for proper disposal of any concentration of PCBs. Historically, regional EPA administrators have possessed substantial flexibility in making case-by-case determinations regarding PCBs.

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