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EPA Says It Might Ban Remaining Uses of PCBs

WASHINGTON (CN) - More than 30 years after the Toxic Substances Control Act banned the manufacture and use of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in most applications, the EPA has announced that it may remove the remaining exceptions, due to potential harm to human health.

In 1976 the EPA estimated 750 million lbs. of PCBs remained in use, and that 75 percent of it was in electrical or industrial equipment such as electrical capacitors, electromagnets and transformers. Because the PCBs were enclosed within the equipment and because PCBs were not known to escape from the equipment, the EPA did not require operators to seek specific use authorization for continued operation.

In some other applications, the EPA required operators to obtain specific use permits, which required periodic inspections and strict reuse and disposal regimes.

The EPA now says that over the past thirty years, leaking equipment and environmentally unsound disposal practices may have released significant amounts of PCBs into the atmosphere, as suggested by environmental studies, and that exposure to these PCBs continues to have a negative impact on human health.

In addition, most of the equipment excepted in the PCB ban or that received authorized use permits are now reaching the end of their useful life and the EPA is concerned about how the operators of the equipment will decommission and dispose of it.

The agency proposes to conduct a national review of all uses of PCBs to determine which uses should be phased out, which should have their regulation changed to limit the risk of leaks and which should be allowed to continue with PCB replacement fluids.

The EPA is asking the scientific, commercial, environmental and medical communities to submit comments and participate in the process of developing amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act to facilitate these changes.

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