Survey on the Management and Disposal of Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Northern Ireland

Closed 22 Jul 2022

Opened 23 May 2022

Overview

Polychlorinated Biphenyl's (PCBs) have long been recognised as posing a threat to human health and the environment due to their toxicity, persistence and tendancy to build up in the bodies of animals, particularly at the top of the food chain. As a result of releases to the environment over the past several decades due to human activities, PCBs are now widely distributed over large regions (including places where PCBs have never been used, for example in marine animals in the Antarctic). A major source of emissions to air and land continues to be PCB based di-electric heat transfer fluids from old electrical equipment (e.g. capacitors, transformers, electrical switching gear).

From the early 1970s, use of PCBs has gradually been restricted in the UK and internationally, with a ban on close uses of PCBs in new equipment in the UK in 1981. PCBs were banned internationally under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in 2004. Examples of existing closed uses of PCBs include but are not limited to heat exchange fluids such as coolants and insulating fluids (transformer oil) for transformers and capacitors.

In September 1996, EC Directive 96/59/EC made provisions regarding the registration and disposal of PCBs. This Directive required the preparation of inventories, labelling and disposal/treatment of PCB holdings. The management and disposal of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in Northern Ireland is currently carried out in line with the Environmental Protection (Disposal of Polychlorinated Biphenyls and other Dangerous Substances) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2000 (“the current regulations"). These prohibit the holding of PCBs and equipment containing PCBs with some limited exceptions. Under the current regulations, there is an exception allowing transformers with fluids which contain 0.05% by weight or less of PCBs to be held until the end of their useful life. The UK competent authorities are required to maintain inventories of equipment that has or may have been contaminated with PCBs.

Following a recast of the European Union legislation on Persistent Organic Pollutants Regulation (EU) 2019/1021, it will be necessary to comply with a lower threshold for PCB contamination, with 0.005% PCBs by weight and a volume of 0.05dm3 the new maximum acceptable level. Any equipment which does not comply with the new thresholds will be required to be removed from use by 31st December 2025.

Why your views matter

The purpose of this survey is to gather information on any existing stockpiles of potential PCB contaminated equipment. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (the Department) is keen to hear the views of those with an interest in this issue. Stakeholders are encouraged to participate, providing as much information as possible.

Please complete this survey for all items of relevant electrical equipment on your site. The questions refer to equipment that is in use or in storage. To ensure a complete an accurate survey please complete and return even if you answer No to questions.

What happens next

This survey will assist in obtaining information on the full scale of contaminated equipment in NI and inform a regulatory impact assessment prior to the update of the current regulations. The department is keen to engage with impacted stakeholders identified and provide support and guidance towards compliance where necessary.

 

Audiences

  • Business
  • Waste operators

Interests

  • Pollution Control