UNEP Issues First Global Inventory of PCB Disposal Capacity

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has issued the first inventory of global capacity for disposing of highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in wastes and other forms.

The inventory document was prepared by UNEP Chemicals in cooperation with the Secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.

The document presents options for PCB destruction in all regions of the world, giving governments and others responsible for managing PCB wastes a valuable first guide for evaluating disposal options and identifying suitable facilities.

Governments were asked to provide information on the type and capacity of available facilities that can dispose of PCBs and PCB-containing wastes and waste equipment. According to the survey, drawing on data from a questionnaire sent to governments and other sources, notably the Secretariat of the Basel Convention, there is considerable capacity in Europe and Asia-Pacific, for example, but few options in Africa and South America.

Globally, the survey document says, the principal problem in dealing with PCBs and PCB-containing equipment is not so much the disposal capacity or demonstrated technology as the challenges involved in identifying waste inventories in some countries and financing their destruction.

Though now out of production world-wide, PCBs found widespread application as coolants, insulating materials, lubricants for electrical transformers and capacitors, and other purposes. Between 1929 and 1989, world production of PCBs, excluding the Soviet Union, totalled 1.5 million tonnes, according to the report. As these PCB-containing products are handled and as they approach the end of their useful life, there is growing risk that accidental leaks and improper disposal may lead to pollution of the soil, water, or air.

Compounding the PCB disposal situation are a range of related problems, including inadequate management or lack of treatment altogether, poor knowledge of the risks, unsafe transport of PCB-containing equipment, and the widespread presence of this equipment in urban areas.

Copies of the document, Inventory of World-wide PCB Destruction Capacity, are available to the public free of charge from: UNEP Chemicals, Geneva Executive Centre, 11-13 chemin des Anemones, CH-1219 Chatelaine, Geneva, Switzerland.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie