Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are man-made chemicals. They are dangerous to human health and the environment and you must dispose of them correctly and in most cases as soon as possible.
Using PCBs to make electrical equipment and related products is now banned. If you have equipment made in Europe before 1987 it may contain PCBs. Older equipment that could contain PCBs includes:
- electrical transformers
- power factor capacitors
- heat transfer equipment
- pole-mounted transformers
- process heating equipment
- high temperature hydraulic systems
- electrical resistors
- bushings and other high voltage equipment
- fluorescent light ballasts
- hospital diagnostic equipment
- vacuum pumps
Some chemical and combustion processes may also release PCBs accidentally if fuels or feedstocks (raw materials required for an industrial process) are contaminated. You can avoid PCB contamination by managing and disposing of PCB wastes properly.
Deal with equipment containing PCBs safely
You must arrange for the safe disposal or decontamination of all equipment that contains more than 50 parts per million (ppm) of PCBs as soon as possible, unless you are permitted to continue using it.
If your equipment contains more than five litres of any substance with a PCB concentration greater than 50ppm it is classed as Contaminated Equipment.
You must not possess Contaminated Equipment unless your business:
- Uses transformers with PCB oil at concentrations of no more than 500ppm. You can continue to use the transformer until the end of its useful life. You should register the equipment with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and renew the registration annually if it contains oil with a PCB concentration at or above 50ppm.
- Uses PCBs only for analytical or research work. You must ensure that you dispose of the PCBs properly when this purpose comes to an end.
- Has the proper authorisation to decontaminate or dispose of PCBs and holds them only for this reason.
If you possess any equipment with components that contain PCBs, and neither the component nor the larger equipment is classed as Contaminated Equipment, you may continue to possess the equipment until it is taken out of use, for example capacitors within fluorescent lighting strips. You must dispose of the equipment correctly at the end of its useful life.
Register Contaminated Equipment
If you possess Contaminated Equipment you must register it with the NIEA, even if you are about to dispose of it. You must also register any equipment that could potentially be Contaminated Equipment unless it is reasonable to assume that it is not contaminated. You must renew your registrations annually for as long as you have the equipment.
Decontaminate Contaminated Equipment
You should arrange for the safe decontamination of all Contaminated Equipment you have as soon as possible, unless you are permitted to continue using it.
Decontamination reduces the PCB concentration of Contaminated Equipment to less than 50ppm. When you submit your registration or renewal paperwork you should tell the NIEA how and when you plan to have the decontamination work done.
Deregister Contaminated Equipment
You should deregister your Contaminated Equipment after its disposal, decontamination or sale.
You will need to provide evidence such as:
- consignment note numbers for both the waste equipment and contaminated oil
- laboratory test reports
- contact details of the new owner
Any new owner of your Contaminated Equipment must register it with the NIEA.
Label all Contaminated Equipment
You must clearly label all Contaminated Equipment as containing PCBs and place warning notices on the doors of any premises where the equipment is kept. Transformers that are held until the end of their useful life should also have an additional label showing they have been decontaminated to below 500ppm.
Dispose of waste or equipment containing PCBs correctly
You must dispose of all waste or equipment containing PCBs safely. Wherever possible you should dispose of the PCB-containing component or substance separately from the rest of the equipment.
If your waste contains any concentration of PCBs it may be hazardous waste - see dealing with hazardous waste.
PCBs are classed as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and their production, use and disposal are controlled internationally.
Under the European Union POPs Regulation if your waste or piece of equipment has a PCB concentration above 50 milligrams per kilogram you must dispose of it so the PCB content is destroyed or permanently changed, for example by high temperature incineration.