When the United National Environment Programme (UNEP) was created in 1972, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and PCTs (Polychlorinated terphenyls) were among a list of 10 (ten) persistent organic pollutants (POPs), i.e. subject to bioaccumulation and persistent in the environment.
The Stockholm Convention and its older sister the Basel Convention set out a regulatory framework for their disposal. PEN (PCB Elimination Network) was formed in 2009 to assist states with PCB management.
PCBs are among twelve priority persistent organic pollutants (POPs) targeted by the Stockholm Convention which was signed in May 2001 and enacted by the European Council under EC Decision 2006/507/CE on 14 October 2004.
This internationally enforceable treaty sets out a framework founded on the PRINCIPLE OF PRECAUTION to guarantee the elimination under safe conditions and reduced production and use of these substances which are harmful to human health and the environment. The protocol that came into force on 23 October 2003 strictly limits the use of PCBs and sets out plans for their elimination.
According to UNEP, 50 ppm is the threshold above which a product should be considered a pollutant and therefore eligible for treatment at an approved plant.
Under the terms of the Convention, states are obliged to PROHIBIT or else ADOPT legal and administrative measures to HALT THE PRODUCTION AND USE OF PCBs.
Equipment containing PCBs must be listed, labelled and decommissioned by 2025 and must be correctly stored before being eliminated in an environmentally sound manner by 2028.
The Basel Convention, an international treaty signed on 22 March 1989, was designed to PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT AND HUMAN HEALTH from the harmful effects resulting from the production and transboundary movement and management of hazardous waste. It is designed to strictly control these movements with the aim ofencouraging environmentally sound management of hazardous waste.
Under this treaty, Technical Guidelines on the environmentally sound management of waste containing POPs (persistent organic pollutants), notably PCBs, were drawn up and disseminated to minimise the generation of such waste and control its storage, transport, treatment, reuse, recycling, recovery and final elimination.
Pursuant to Article VIII of the Basel Convention, all waste containing more than 50 mg/kg of PCB, PCT, PBB or PCN is considered hazardous waste and must therefore be destroyed in plants that have been accredited and authorised in this regard.
Regulations in France
As of 1983, the decree of 10 October 1983 governs the labelling and packaging of hazardous substances; PCBs are classified “toxic substances”.
As of 1987, Decree 87-59 dated 2 February 1987 prohibits the use of new equipment containing PCBs and the sale and acquisition of such equipment.
The decree of 18 January 2001 sets out a national plan for the decontamination and elimination of equipment containing PCBs. It sets a deadline of 31 December 2010 for the elimination of equipment containing concentrations of PCBs above 500 mg/kg.
The current regulations governing PCBs in France, and as a member of the European Union, relate to the following:
- Measures prohibiting the manufacture, sale and use of PCBs and similar products, including the methods used for collection, decontamination, destruction and elimination.
- Measures aimed at hazardous waste, i.e. containing more than 50 ppm of PCBs.
- Maximum levels for traces in foods, similar products, the environment, humans and animals.
After the signature of the Stockholm Convention, developing countries were immediately faced with various difficulties in fulfilling their obligations to destroy PCBs: lack of treatment capacity, logistical difficulties, limited resources or difficulty in accessing information.
To deal with these problems, PEN was created in 2009 during the Conference of the Parties of the Stockholm Convention.
PEN (PCB Elimination Network) is a collaborative structure dedicated to the promotion and exchange of information to ensure environmentally sound management of PCBs.
It has 16 members and meets on an annual basis to examine the work performed and plan its future work, notably preparation of the criteria and processes to be used in treatment solutions. It also facilitates coordination of the different sectors with an interest in the management of PCBs.