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Non-compliance with PCB law = big fines.

Commercial building owners and managers beware. The deadline has long since passed for electric transformers containing dangerous polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to be rendered safe, replaced or electrically protected. Failure to adhere to federal guidelines could result in fines totalling several thousands dollars.

Since Oct. 1, 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been empowered to impose fines of up to $25,000 a day per violation for owners of buildings that are accessible to the public.

Though the EPA has regulated PCBs for more than 10 years, over 77,000 transformers across the country still contain PCBs, posing serious health hazards.

An estimated 620,000 pounds of PCB fluid are spilled annually. One of the greatest dangers from PCBs occurs after a transformer fire, when poisonous toxins, carried by soot and smoke, can often contaminate the entire building.4

According to the EPA, owners and managers can expect vigorous enforcement of these regulations. The $25,000 per day per violation fines can be assessed for either an entire facility or for a number of locations within a facility, depending on whether the transformers are scattered or centrally grouped. There is no limit on the amount of fines that can be levied against a single. owner.

Complying with EPA regulations can take from two months to two years, and cost $5,000 to more than $100,000. Despite the cost, any commercial building owner should immediately initiate a compliance program. Failure to do so could result in a forced shutdown or a declaration of bankruptcy.

There are three major compliance options: One method entails replacing the existing transformer with one that does not contain PCB. The contaminated transformer must be cleaned and disassembled bolt by bolt, and buried or incinerated.

Retrofit, often necessary if the transformer is old and failing or leaking, can be accomplished with minimal disruption. But because the transformer is made to order, replacement can take four months.

Another method, "retrofilling," involves draining and rinsing the transformer until it contains less than 50 PCB parts per million. As with retrofit, the owner is responsible for removal, transportation and disposal of all contaminated materials.

Retrofill is generally less expensive than retrofit, can be accomplished with less dispersion, and is viable when replacement calls for major structural modifications. Retrofill, however, is the most time consuming; it can take up to two years to adequately flush the entire transformer. Retrofilled transformers also must maintain their non-PCB status for at least three months before they can be certified "non-PCB."

With retrofit or retrofill, the owner is responsible for the safe and compliant removal and transportation of all PCB liquids and contaminated materials. The owner is also responsible for disposing the contaminants at an approved facility. Regardless of who is hired to oversee or conduct the actual removal, transportation and disposal, the ultimate responsibility remains with the owner. If any part of this process is not done properly and a problem arises, the owner is liable.

The third option, improvement of electrical protection is designed to reduce the risk of fire damage through protective measures. Specifically, it entails installing high-current fault protection via current-limiting fuses or their other equivalent that will detect both low- and high-current faults and de-energize the transformer less than a second after detection.

Electrical protection is usually the quickest and least costly option. It is, however, the most uncertain, since EPA objectives are not clearly defined.

Clean-up of PCB is especially difficult for commercial building owners without in-house engineering capabilities. Increasingly, owners are hiring specialized management firms to impartially supervise PCB removal and disposal. Unlike remediation contractors, PCB management firms are not selling a particular removal or disposal system, and can objectively evaluate the problem and recommend and implement a safe and cost-effective solution.

Hill International, a risk/management and claims management firm for the construction industry headquartered in Willingboro, New Jersey.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:polychlorinated biphenyl laws
Author:Neifert, Jim
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Sep 16, 1992
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