- WEB EXCLUSIVE
- PE COFFEEHAUS
The EPA on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010, released guidance recommending that schools take steps to reduce potential exposures to PCBs from older fluorescent lighting fixtures. The guidance is based on evidence that ballast from fluorescent fixtures contains PCBs, which could build to dangerous levels in the air. The recommendations, not mandatory, could be applied to many other facilities besides schools, and form the basis of a risk management process for disposal.
The guidance document is available on the agency's website.
Until the late 1970s, PCBs were commonly used as insulators in electrical equipment because they have a high tolerance for heat, do not easily burn, and are non-explosive. The agency banned the processing and distribution in commerce of PCBs in 1979 pursuant to the Toxic Substances Control Act due to their toxic effects. However, uses of older PCB-containing ballasts were allowed to continue, provided that the ballasts had not failed and the PCBs were not leaking.
Given their widespread use before they were banned, if a facility was built before 1979 or has not had a complete lighting retrofit since 1979, the fluorescent light ballasts probably contain PCBs. Although intact, functioning ballasts do not pose a health threat, these lighting ballasts will all fail in time. For that reason, the EPA recommends older PCB-containing lighting ballasts should be removed, whether as part of a previously scheduled lighting retrofit program or a stand-alone project.
To prevent exposure if leaking ballasts are discovered, facility personnel should wear protective clothing, including chemically resistant gloves, boots, and disposable overalls while surveying the ballasts. Replacement of leaking ballasts should be performed in a well-ventilated area, or supplemental ventilation or respiratory protection should be provided to reduce the potential for breathing in fumes.
The EPA has also developed information on how to properly handle and dispose of PCB-containing fluorescent light ballasts and properly retrofit lighting fixtures to remove potential PCB hazards.
In September 2009, the EPA issued guidance to communities about potential PCB contamination in the caulk of pre-1978 buildings. The EPA also announced additional research into the potential for PCBs in caulk to get into the air. Research on that and other issues related to PCB exposures is ongoing.
SOURCE: Federal Register