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First PCBs, now DEHP ballasts.

When PCBs were banned in 1979, certain manufacturers of lighting ballasts used di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) as a substitute in small capacitors for a five-to-ten-year period, depending on the type of ballast. In fact, approximately 50 percent of all lighting ballasts that do not contain PCBs instead contain DEHP.

DEHP is a clear, odorless, synthetic compound that is used extensively as a plasticizer as well as a dielectric fluid. Unfortunately; laboratory tests of the compound showed that long-term exposure to high levels of DEHP caused cance in rats and mice. Although it is not known for certain whether DEHP actually causes cancer in humans, it has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and as a hazardous and toxic substance under various environmental regulations.

To avoid Superfund liability, managers and owners should handle the disposal of DEHP ballasts with the same precaution as the disposal of PCB ballasts.

DEHP regulations

DEHP is regulated by the U.S. EPA, OSHA, FDA, and 12 city and state agencies. Under the Superfund laws, the compound is a listed hazardous substance. This means that if DEHP is released into the environment, EPA could require the person responsible for the contamination to pay all or part of the cost of the site's clean up.

EPA will try to divide the cost of cleaning up the site among potentially responsible parties (PRPs). The PRPs for Superfund clean-up actions include generators of the waste (e.g., the building owner where the ballast was installed), transporters, owners, or operators of disposal facilities, arranger of waste disposal services, and other parties who may have played a significant role (especially parties who have an ability to pay).

In the case of a lighting retrofit, this may include the building owner, the property management company, and the electric utility providing the rebate, to name just a few.

To help prevent further improper disposal of DEHP, EPA has set a Reportable Quantity (RQ) of 100 pounds for the chemical under Superfund. This means that i someone is disposing of more than 100 pounds of DEHP in a non-hazardous land fill (an amount contained in roughly 1,600 light ballasts), they must report to the National Response Center and take responsibility for clean up.

Property managers may want to note, however, that any quantity of DEHP found in a municipal landfill could cause the person responsible for disposing of the ballasts to be partially or fully responsible for funding the clean up.

The cost of an average Superfund clean up is between $30 and $40 million. This is not to say that one party would be liable for this amount, but even a small fraction of this large number is enough to warrant caution on the part of property managers with regard to the disposal of DEHP-containing materials.

The concept of "strict" liability under Superfund makes the potential liability even more severe. Strict liability means that the government does not have to prove negligence or malicious intent to charge an individual or an organization with violating Superfund. Even EPA-approved hazardous waste landfills can becom Superfund sites.

DEHP ballast disposal is of particular concern with respect to Superfund becaus nearly half (587) of the 1,300 Superfund sites are contaminated with DEHP. However, the degree of contamination of these sites is not known.

Many of these sites are municipal landfills. This means that there are many DEHP-contaminated landfills that need clean-up sponsors, and disposal of DEHP ballasts at one of these landfills could make the disposer a potentially responsible party to a clean-up action.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) ranks DEHP 63rd (top 10 percent) out of 700 hazardous substances which are the most common at Superfund sites and pose the most significant threat to human health and the environment. By comparison, ATSDR ranks PCBs in the top 1 percent of the same fist.

Under RCRA (the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act), DEHP is listed as a hazardous waste when it is discarded in its pure form, but not after it is "used." For example, a drum of DEHP found at the loading dock of a DEHP manufacturing facility would be hazardous waste if disposed of, but a spent ballast capacitor filled with the chemical is not considered hazardous under RCRA because the DEHP has been used. The fact that DEHP is listed under RCRA is a good indication of its significance.

At least 10 states and two cities go beyond the federal government in regulatin levels of DEHP in air and water. The seven states that regulate DEHP in air hav established ambient air concentrations of DEHP. The six states that regulate levels of DEHP in water have set maximum acceptable levels in drinking water.

How much DEHP was used

DEHP was used to replace PCBs as a dielectric fluid in ballast capacitors beginning in 1979. These capacitors are metal capsules that contain about an ounce of nearly pure DEHP.

By 1985, most manufacturers had stopped using DEHP in ballasts for four-foot fixtures. They continued to use it until 1991, however, in most ballasts for eight-foot fixtures and for HID fixtures. In most cases the replacement for DEH is a dry, metallic capacitor, like those used in most electronic ballasts.

At a maximum, there are 250 million DEHP light ballasts currently in use in the United States, containing a total of about 15 million pounds of DEHP. By comparison, there are an estimated 40 million pounds of PCBs in installed lighting ballasts.

Disposal options

There are essentially four options for disposal of DEHP ballasts. Figure 4 presents a comparison of the costs of disposal.

* Sanitary landfill or municipal incinerator. Disposing of DEHP ballasts in a municipal landfill is not recommended because the DEHP in ballasts is a liquid contained in a metal capsule that can rupture or rust. Once the DEHP is released, it can flow into the landfill's leachate and contaminate soil and groundwater because sanitary landfills are not designed to contain hazardous substances.

Municipal or waste-to-energy incinerators are also not designed for hazardous waste. It is very difficult to incinerate a whole ballast because it is a solid metal mass. Since the DEHP may not burn completely, it can remain in the ash an eventually contaminate the soil or groundwater, as in the sanitary landfill option.

* Hazardous waste landfill. This option certainly protects the environment to a greater degree than using a non-hazardous waste landfill. However, it still leaves the generator of the waste with potential legal liability. Hazardous waste landfills are not immune from having to be cleaned up as Superfund sites. In the event the landfill does require clean up, the EPA has access to a complete record of whoever sent waste to the landfill and can easily assign financial responsibility to all the parties involved.

* Whole DEHP ballast incineration. This option involves sending whole ballast to a hazardous waste or PCB incinerator for total destruction. This is the most expensive option, but is among the most secure since all of the DEHP is destroyed.

This option is acceptable in terms of legal risk but not as popular as the recycling/incineration option because the latter is lower cost and reduces harm to the environment by reclaiming valuable metals.

* Ballast recycling and DEHP incineration. This method involves sending the ballasts to a recycling facility where the ballasts are disassembled, and the small capacitors containing the DEHP are segregated for disposal. The remaining metals, including copper, steel, and aluminum, are reclaimed. As a result of this process, over 80 percent of the ballast by weight is recycled.

Once separated from the ballasts, there are two options for the disposal of the DEHP capacitors. They can either be incinerated, ensuring complete destruction of the DEHP, or disposed of in a secure hazardous waste landfill. We strongly recommend the recycling/incineration option as the best disposal method given the relative cost, environmental protection, and avoidance of future liability guaranteed by total destruction of the DEHP.

DEHP and PCB ballasts

In spite of Superfund's rigorous regulation of PCBs and DEHP, ballasts that contain these chemicals are treated more leniently under EPA's toxic and hazardous waste regulations, TSCA and RCRA, respectively.

Both of these regulations allow DEHP and PCB ballasts to be disposed of in a municipal, non-hazardous landfill because DEHP is not regulated under RCRA afte it is "used" and because of the small PCB capacitor exemption under TSCA. Thus, the primary deterrent to disposing of both types of ballasts in a non-hazardous facility is the potential Superfund liability.

Mitchell L. Dong is president of FulCircle Ballast Recyclers and has over 21 years of experience in the energy and environmental fields. He holds a B.A. in economics from Harvard University.

Brian E. Cooper is vice president of FulCircle Ballast Recyclers. He manages th company's regional offices in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago Houston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
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Title Annotation:Operating Techniques & Products Bulletin 428; polychlorinated biphenyls; di 2-ethylhexyl phthalate
Author:Dong, Mitchell L.; Cooper, Brian E.
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Sep 1, 1994
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