More on Reducing Risks from Specific Chemicals
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are mixtures of synthetic organic chemicals with the same basic chemical structure and similar physical properties ranging from oily liquids to waxy solids. Due to their non-flammability, chemical stability, high boiling point and electrical insulating properties, PCBs were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications including electrical, heat transfer, and hydraulic equipment; as plasticizers in paints, plastics and rubber products; in pigments, dyes and carbonless copy paper and many other applications. More than 1.5 billion pounds of PCBs were manufactured in the United States prior to cessation of production in 1977.
PCBs have been demonstrated to cause a variety of adverse health effects, including cancer in animals, and a number of serious non-cancer health effects in animals, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other health effects.
PCBs were specifically regulated by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) when the law passed in 1976 because Congress believed that the chemical and toxicological properties of PCBs posed unacceptable risks to public health and the environment. TSCA §6(e) specifically directs EPA to regulate the manufacturing, processing, distribution in commerce, use, and disposal of PCBs.
The law generally prohibits the use of PCBs except in a totally controlled manner; it allows EPA to authorize uses of PCBs provided that they do not present an unreasonable risk.
More than a dozen major and minor rules have been promulgated since 1978 to implement the bans, provide authorizations for use, and control the disposal of PCBs. EPA efforts regarding PCBs focus on the reduction and elimination of their use and encouraging their cleanup and safe disposal.
- In March 2007, the Aberdeen Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (ABCDF) became the first chemical weapons facility in the continental United States to completely dispose of its stockpile and to decontaminate and demolish its disposal plant. ABDCF neutralized 1,623 tons of mustard agents.
- On July 6, 2007, EPA renewed the National PCB Disposal Approval for the U.S. Army Chemical Agent M55 rocket incinerators at Pine Bluff, Ark., and Umatilla, Ore. The approval, which allows the Army to continue to burn stockpiled chemical agent rockets containing PCBs for five years, will terminate on July 6, 2012.
- On September 18, 2007, EPA published a final rule, Polychlorinated Biphenyls: Manufacturing (Import) Exemptions, granting a petition submitted to EPA by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to import 1.3 million pounds of PCBs and PCB items currently in temporary storage at U.S. military installations in Japan for environmentally sound disposal in the United States.
- To improve program and administrative efficiency, EPA transferred the management of the PCB cleanup and disposal program to the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response from OPPTS. The change was effective October 1, 2007. OPPTS will continue to administer the “use” portion of the PCB program.
Read more information on PCBs and information and guidance on PCBs and ship scrapping (PDF) (261 pp, 1.2 MB, about PDF).