Considerations for Safe Handling and Disposal of PCBs

Advanced_Disposal_Danger_PCBs_3The waste industry’s knowledge of how to properly and safely handle special waste materials, once considered a necessity, has grown along with our understanding of environmental health – a major issue for the waste industry.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are among the most important entries in this category. PCBs are man-made chemicals used in many building materials from the late 1920s to 1979, but are now associated with reproductive and cancer risks.

PCBs are present in products like electrical equipment and surface coatings, but are particularly prevalent in caulking, grout, and adhesives. In the U.S., approximately 99 percent of all PCBs were manufactured under the trade names Aroclor, Therminol, and Askarel.

For context on PCB prevalence, consider 46 percent of all U.S. public and private school buildings currently in use were either built or renovated between 1958 and 1971 during the time period PCBs were in use.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 banned PCBs and regulated their disposal, and any material containing more than 50 parts per million (ppm) of PCBs outside of specific allowances like electrical transformers are now considered an “unauthorized use” and must be removed.

PCB Waste Categories – What’s The Difference?

Since PCBs are so prevalent in building materials, understanding them is the first step to proper handling and disposal. The EPA maintains an online interpretive guidance resource for PCBs, and PCBs are generally classified as either PCB bulk product waste or PCB remediation waste.

  • PCB Bulk Product Waste is non-liquid waste from manufactured products, including building materials, plastics, and multiple fluids.
  • PCB Remediation Waste is waste contaminated from a spill, release, or other unauthorized disposal of PCBs. This includes soil, sediment, gravel, sewage, sludge, rags or debris generated during PCB spill cleanup.

In 2012, EPA reinterpreted its definitions so building materials “coated or serviced” with PCB materials like caulk, mastics, or sealants can also be handled as PCB bulk product waste. Building materials like concrete or wood where PCBs may have leached into over time may also be considered PCB remediation waste, even if the PCB surface application has been removed.











The benefit of this reinterpretation is an acceleration in the cleanup of buildings, including many schools, that may be contaminated with PCBs and providing a healthy environment in schools and commercial/public buildings.

Federal And State Regulations For PCB Disposal

EPA encourages PCB disposal through two methods specific to each category.

PCB Bulk Product Waste may be disposed of in a solid waste landfill but it must be permitted, licensed, or registered by a State as a municipal or non-municipal non-hazardous waste landfill.

PCB Remediation Waste may be disposed of either through self-implementing onsite cleanup and disposal, which allows residual concentrations to remain in a building depending on property use characteristics and PCB disposition, performance-based disposal in a TSCA incinerator or chemical waste landfill, or a regulated decontamination procedure.

EPA does not require prior approval for either primary disposal option for PCB bulk product waste or PCB remediation waste, but either may also be disposed of through a risk-based disposal method outside these options if the EPA certifies it does not pose unreasonable risk to public health or the environment.

EPA regulations are a good starting point for safe PCB handling and disposal, but individual states may maintain their own regulations and waste categories. These additional considerations are extensive, so consult the list of state-specific waste regulations for reference.

We Can Help With Your PCB Concerns

Safely disposing of PCBs may pose unique challenges and leave businesses feeling overwhelmed, but you’re not alone. We’re experienced at handling special waste like PCBs, and can provide services to help along every step of the way, from waste identification and audits to computerized tracking and state-of-the-art landfills.

If you’ve still got questions, or want to find out how Advanced Disposal can help you deal with PCBs, contact one of our Special Waste Experts– we’re here to help.

Want to know more about Special Waste? Sign up to receive our Waste Advisor emails here.

To contact a Special Waste Expert, please click here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *