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Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in Ships

Many ocean-going ships built before 1979 contain PCBs in various materials including the following:

  • cables
  • electrical equipment such as capacitors and transformers
  • gaskets and watertight seal material 
  • painted surfaces

Ship owners must get permission from EPA before exporting older ships containing PCBs for disposal, or holding a ship containing PCBs for purposes of export for disposal.

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Technical Guidance for PCBs in Ships

EPA has developed a Technical Guidance for Determining the Presence of PCBs at Regulated Concentrations on Vessels (Ships) to be Reflagged to assist ship owners in complying with Maritime Administration (MARAD) procedures for requesting a transfer of a United States flagged ships to a foreign registry.

Prior to reflagging, MARAD requires owners to certify that there are no PCBs in amounts greater than or equal to 50 parts per million (ppm) in shipboard materials, such as:

  • paint,
  • electrical cabling
  • and gaskets.

The comprehensive, technical guidance will also help protect human health and the environment by assisting ship owners in complying with the requirements of the Toxic Substance Control Act and implementing PCB regulations. These regulations prohibit the export of regulated levels of PCBs from the United States.

EPA solicited public comments on the entire draft technical guidance document. The comment period closed on March 31, 2013, and comments were received from seven organizations.

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Frequent Questions about PCBs in Ships

What is the purpose of this technical guidance?

  • The purpose of this guidance is to assist ship owners in determining whether their vessel contains regulated levels of PCBs when requesting to reflag their vessel to a foreign country prior to export from the United States.
    Exporting ships with materials that contain regulated levels of PCBs is illegal under the TSCA and its PCB regulations.

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Why has EPA developed this technical guidance?

  • On June 27, 2011, the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) published a clarification in the Federal Register titled "Approval Process for Transfers to Foreign Registry of U.S. Documented Vessels over 1,000 Gross Tons," (76 FR 37280).
    The clarification states that make requests to MARAD for transfer of their ship to a foreign registry (i.e. reflagging) of United States flagged ships require vessel owners to self-certify that "the vessel does not contain PCBs in amounts greater than or equal to 50 ppm" prior to reflagging.
    EPA has prepared this technical guidance document titled, "Technical Guidance for Determining the Presence of PCBs at Regulated Concentrations on Vessels (Ships) to be Reflagged" to assist ship owners in determining whether their vessel contains regulated levels of PCBs prior to reflagging, and to assist ship owners in completing the PCB self-certification required by the MARAD Clarification.

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What does the technical guidance cover?

  • Determining the potential for the presence of regulated levels of PCBs on a ship by using historical records, such as records related to the construction and maintenance of the ship, as well as other relevant existing information.
  • Making a statistically based determination that a specified percentage of each shipboard material, such as paint, electrical cable, or gaskets, present on a vessel does not contain regulated levels of PCBs.
  • Identifying key decision points that would lead a ship owner toward one of three approaches to assess the presence of regulated levels of PCBs on a ship:
    • Non-sampling approach (strictly utilizing historical records)
    • Targeted sampling approach
      • Uses historical records and other relevant existing information to determine materials, areas and/or parts to the ship that do not contain PCBs. The sampling can then be performed on the remaining materials, area and/or parts of the ship.
      • Can be applied to verify the conclusions or findings reached after a review of historical construction, maintenance records and other relevant existing data.
    • Non-targeted sampling approach
      • Can be applied when there are no historical records or other dates to narrow the scope of sampling.
      • Uses only sampling to assess the presence of PCBs at regulated levels on the ship to be reflagged.

An owner can use historical records or other relevant existing information, such as ship construction and maintenance records, to identify materials, area, and/or parts of the ship that are unlikely or likely to contain regulated levels of PCBs.

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What is the ship "reflagging process"?

  • When a ship is documented and authorized under a country's ship registry, the ship will fly the flag of that country (i.e. the ship is said to be flagged of that country). The reflagging process applies when a ship changes from one country's ship registry to another.
  • Under 46 U.S.C. §56101,  United States ships of 1,000 gross tons and over require U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) approval to be transferred to foreign ownership, flag and/or registry, i.e., reflagging.

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What environmental concerns are there for ships going through MARADs reflagging process?

  • Older ships frequently contain materials with regulated levels of PCBs. Exporting these materials is illegal under the TSCA. PCBs are not only very toxic but they are also persistent and bio-accumulative.
    This means that if PCBs are mismanaged overseas, they could reappear in the United States by moving through the food chain. Furthermore, PCBs on ships being scrapped at a foreign facility could be mismanaged and lead to exposure of PCBs to workers at a foreign ship scrapper.
  • PCBs belong to a broad family of manmade organic chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons. PCBs exhibit a range of toxicity and vary in consistency from thin, light-colored liquids to yellow or black 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
    • and many other industrial applications. 
    Exposure to PCBs can cause a variety of adverse health effects in animals and humans.

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What is the PCB 'self-certification' process for ships being reflagged?

  • The PCB self-certification process required by MARAD requires ship owners to certify to MARAD that PCBs in amounts greater than or equal to 50 ppm are not present on the vessel.

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What are the regulated levels of PCBs for export for disposal and continued use?

  • In the context of this technical guidance, "regulated levels of PCBs" refers to PCBs in concentrations greater than or equal to 50 ppm. Under EPA regulations, export for disposal of PCBs in concentrations greater than or equal to 50 ppm is prohibited (see Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations section 761.97), except when an exemption is granted by the EPA Administrator through a rulemaking.
  • Exports for continued use of PCBs or PCB Items containing concentrations greater than or equal to 50 ppm without an exemption is prohibited under §761.20 in the PCB regulations. However, some exports for continued use of PCBs are regulated at concentrations less than 50 ppm.
    For this guidance, the 50 ppm concentration is used as the test result threshold for PCBs. Please note that, if desired, this guidance, with the necessary modifications, can be applied to determine the presence of PCBs at a threshold other than 50 ppm.

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Can EPA still inspect ships?

  • Yes. Nothing in the MARAD Clarification or the technical guidance alters EPA’s underlying inspection, information gathering, and enforcement authorities under TSCA in any way.

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