Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Action required

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are man-made organic chemicals. They pose a threat to human health and the environment.  As such, the University is legally prohibited from holding any equipment containing PCBs unless it is registered with the Environment Agency. 

The regulations that govern the use of PCBs were introduced in 2000.  In response to those regulations being issued, departments were asked if they had any PCB containing equipment.  The replies indicated that no such equipment was held within the University.

The University has again been asked to confirm that it has no PCBs.  You are therefore asked to consider the following information and report any equipment that may or is known to contain PCBs.

Background information

Manufacturers used PCBs in a wide variety of products because they are:

  • chemically inert
  • stable at high temperatures
  • flame resistant

PCBs pose a threat to the environment because of their toxicity, persistence and tendency to bioaccumulate - once they are in the environment or in animals or humans it is very difficult to get rid of them. PCBs are classed as Persistent Organic Pollutants.

The sale of PCBs for use in open applications was prohibited in 1972 and their manufacture and use in new plant and equipment was prohibited in 1986. Since that time the only remaining uses have been PCBs sealed inside older existing equipment. Below is a list of equipment that could be contaminated with PCBs - please note that this list is not exhaustive:

  • electrical transformers
  • power factor capacitors
  • heat transfer equipment
  • pole-mounted transformers
  • process heating equipment
  • vacuum pumps
  • high temperature hydraulic systems
  • electrical resistors
  • bushings and other high voltage equipment
  • fluorescent light ballasts
  • hospital diagnostic equipment

If you have equipment that contains PCBs, then the University may need to register it with the Environment Agency. The law says that most types of equipment that contain PCBs must be disposed of, but there are cases when the equipment can be kept to the end of its useful life.

Please identify those areas or groups within your department that may hold equipment containing PCBs.  In addition to the above examples, please also consider items on display or historical instruments that might be held within departments.

Please discuss this requirement with those individuals, be that facilities, building, or particular research staff.  If you suspect or know that PCB containing equipment is held within the department, please notify the University Safety Office immediately. 

If you have equipment that you suspect might contain PCBs, then tests may be required to confirm whether this is the case or not.  The University Safety Office will provide advice on how these tests can be arranged, but it will be the department’s responsibility to arrange and cover the cost. 

If you already hold evidence (e.g. test certificates or manuals) to prove that a suspected item (e.g. because of its age and type) does not actually contain PCBs, you will need to provide a copy of this evidence with your department’s response.

Departmental actions:

  • If your department does not have any items that do, may, or are likely to contain PCBs:
  • No further action required.
  • If your department has items that might contain PCBs, but you already hold evidence to prove that this is not the case (e.g. test certificates, photographs of test results, or operating manuals):
  • Complete Annex A (see below) and return it to the University Safety Office.
  • If your department has items that are known to contain or are suspected of containing PCBs, (but have yet to be tested):
  • Complete Annex A (see below) and return it to the University Safety Office.

NOTE:  Estates Services have already contacted certain departments, as part of their survey of building related equipment. If you have already provided information to Estates, then no further action is required.  If not, or you have discovered further equipment, both building or research related, then please notify the University Safety Office.  The University Safety Office / Estates Services will then advise on what further actions are required.

27 April 2018                                                                                                                       B Jenkins

Memo M3/18 - Annex 1 (14kb)