Discussion Document on Potential Amendments to the PCB Regulations

1.0 Context

The PCB Regulations (the Regulations) were developed in 2008 to implement the Government of Canada’s commitment to protect the health of Canadians and the environment by preventing the release of PCBs to the environment, and by accelerating the phasing out of these substances. Since the coming- into- force of the Regulations, significant progress has been made towards destroying PCBs and products containing PCBs that are subject to the Regulations. However, Environment and Climate Change Canada (the Department) is considering amending the Regulations to address issues identified through their implementation and that were not foreseen at the time of the publication of the Regulations on September 5, 2008.

Purpose

The purpose of this discussion document is to solicit comments on the potential regulatory amendments that are being considered, as well as on other aspects of the Regulations. Comments received will be considered in the development of amendments to the Regulations.

2.0 Background

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are known to be persistent in both environmental media and in human and animal tissue; they are considered a threat to both human health and the environment, and are slated for virtual elimination. They are also toxic, and are included in Schedule 1 of the List of Toxic Substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999). Due to the environmental and health concerns associated with PCBs, the Government of Canada had adopted a number of regulations to minimize exposure to, and environmental releases of PCBs since 1977.

The current Regulations were developed under the authorities of CEPA 1999 with the objective of addressing the risks posed by the use, storage and release into the environment of PCBs, and to accelerate their destruction. The Regulations set deadlines for ending the use of PCBs in concentrations at or above 50 mg/kg in various pieces of equipment, and limit the period of time that PCBs can be stored prior to destruction. These requirements, together with the more stringent release limits, have led to a reduction of PCB releases into the environment. In addition, the labelling and reporting requirements for PCBs provide the necessary information to monitor progress towards end-of-use targets.

2.1 International Context

The Regulations were developed to enable Canada to meet its international obligations. Canada is a Party to the following international agreements:

2.2 Issues

The Department is conducting a review of the Regulations to ensure that they meet the current standards associated with the health, safety and economic well-being needs of Canadians and the environment. As the Regulations came into force in 2008, a review will allow the Department to bring the regulatory regime up to date, while addressing stakeholder concerns in the process.

Existing issues related to the current PCB Regulations include:

The Department acknowledges the challenges associated with these issues and continues to engage to better comprehend affiliated concerns.

2.3 Current Regulatory Requirements for PCBs

2.3.1 Prohibitions

The following prohibitions involving PCBs and products containing PCBs are specified in the Regulations:

Despite the prohibitions mentioned above, the use of PCBs or products containing PCBs are permitted under conditions as specified in the Regulations, for example, in laboratory analysis and research, in communication, navigation or electronic control equipment or cables of aircrafts, ships, trains and other vehicles, and in colouring pigments.

2.3.2 End-of-Use Deadlines

The key element of the Regulations remains the prescribed end-of-use deadlines for liquids containing PCBs and specified equipment-containing PCBs. The following summarizes the end-of-use deadlines.

2.3.3 PCB Storage Deadlines

Solid or liquid products containing PCBs in concentrations of 50 mg/kg or more trigger the storage requirements of the Regulations when they are no longer in use and when there are:

A maximum storage period is allowed for PCBs and PCB-related products at each of the following locations:

2.3.4 Import and Export Requirements

The PCB Regulations prohibit the export and import of PCBs in concentrations of 2 mg/kg or more, unless it is a permitted activityNote de bas de page 4Note de bas de page 5 under the Regulations. There are currently two exceptions to this prohibition, namely:

  • the import of PCBs that are present in concentrations of 50 mg/kg or more and are controlled by the Export and Import of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations (EIHWHRMR); and
  • the export of PCBs that are present in concentrations of 50 mg/kg or more and are controlled by the PCB Waste Export Regulations, 1996.

In summary, exports of PCB waste in concentrations of 2 mg/kg or more to the United States, the only country for which exports can occur, is not possible. No EIHWHRMR export permits can be issued for other countries. This is due to the fact that:

  • the PCB Waste Export Regulations, 1996 prohibit exports of PCB waste in concentrations of 50 mg/kg or more to a country other than the U.S. (only for the purposes of destruction); and
  • the United States prohibits the import of waste containing PCBs in concentrations of 2 mg/kg or more.

Imports into Canada of waste containing PCBs is permitted only when PCBs are present in concentrations of 50 mg/kg or more, and from any country, as controlled through authorization and permit conditions required by the EIHWHRMR. However, imports of PCB waste into Canada in concentrations of 2 mg/kg or more but less than 50 mg/kg is not permitted.

Since PCBs are included in Schedule 3 of CEPA 1999, their export is also controlled by the Export of Substances on the Export Control List Regulations (ESECLR), regardless of concentration.

The flow chart below summarizes the types of imports and exports of PCB waste that are regulated or prohibited, and the regulations that apply to each case. Note that the flow chart only applies to PCB waste and does not apply to imports or exports of PCBs that are for the purposes of conducting permitted activities under the Regulations.

In addition, the flow chart represents the regulations that would apply if exports of waste containing PCBs in concentrations of 50 mg/kg or more were possible; however, since the U.S. prohibits imports of PCBs in concentrations of 2 mg/kg or more, exports in concentrations of 50 mg/kg are also not possible.

Figure 1: Flow Chart of Import/Export Requirements for PCB Waste

 

Figure 1: Flow Chart of Import/Export Requirements for PCB Waste

 

Long description 
Do you want to export or import PCBs?
Export: What is the concentration of PCBs?
  • Less than 2 mg/kg: Subject to the Export of Substances on the Export Control List Regulations.
  • 2 mg/kg or more and less than 50 mg/kg: Prohibited by the PCB Regulations.
  • 50 mg/kg or more: Is the export for the purpose of destruction?
    • If yes, is the United States the importer? Subject to the Export of Substances on the Export Control List Regulations, the Export and Import of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Materials Regulations and the PCB Waste Export Regulations. However, note that the United States currently prohibits the import of wastes containing PCB concentrations of 2 mg/kg or more.
      • If the United States is not the importer, then prohibited by the PCB Waste Export Regulations.
    • If no, prohibited by the PCB Waste Export Regulations.
Import: What is the concentration of PCBs?
  • Less than 2 mg/kg: Not subject to the PCB Regulations, the Export of Substances on the Export Control List Regulations, the Export and Import of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations and the PCB Waste Export Regulations.
  • 2 mg/kg or more and less than 50 mg/kg: Prohibited by the PCB Regulations.
  • 50 mg/kg or more: Is the import for the purpose of recycling or destruction?
    • If yes, subject to the Export and Import of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations.
    • If no, prohibited by the PCB Regulations.

The control of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable materials within Canada is a responsibility shared by the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments. The federal government is responsible for regulating international movements and movements between provinces and territories. Provincial and territorial governments are responsible for regulating and licensing waste generators, carriers, and disposal, recycling and treatment facilities. This means that when the Department examines imports of PCB wastes, authorization is sought from provincial and territorial governments for activities in their jurisdiction, including particular planned waste streams and volumes, transportation, and disposal locations and operations. Finally, municipal governments are responsible for establishing waste collection and disposal programs within their jurisdictions.

2.4 Effectiveness of the Regulations

Since the Regulations came into force in 2008, progress towards ending the use of PCBs continues to advance and is being monitored.

The use of PCBs in concentrations of 500 mg/kg or more in liquids and equipment must be reported under the Regulations. (Note that for high concentration PCBs in light ballasts and pole-top transformers and their auxiliary pole-top electrical equipment, reporting is only required after removal from use.) Furthermore, the use of PCBs in prescribed locations also has to be reported under the Regulations.

Figure 2 below presents the quantities of PCBs in-use in Canada at concentrations greater than 500 mg/kgNote de bas de page 6 in equipment subject to the Regulations since their coming-into-force, and indicates a significant decrease over time.

 Figure 2: Quantities (tonnes) of PCBs In-Use in Canada in equipment subject to the PCB Regulations (2008-2019)
Figure 2: Quantities (tonnes) of PCBs In-Use in Canada in equipment subject to the PCB Regulations (2008-2019)  
Long description 
Figure 2: Quantities (tonnes) of PCBs In-Use in Canada in equipment subject to the PCB Regulations (2008-2019)
2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
1274.9 871.9 696.9 546.7 344.4 203.3 51.2 25 10.1 0.0054 0.0046 0.0045

The destruction of PCBs is also reported under the Regulations. Figure 3 below provides a representation of the quantities of PCBs that have been destroyed on an annual basis since the coming-into-force of the Regulations.

Figure 3: Quantities (tonnes) of PCBs Destroyed in Canada subject to the PCB Regulations (2008-2019)
Figure 3: Quantities (tonnes) of PCBs Destroyed in Canada subject to the PCB Regulations (2008-2019)
Long description 
Figure 3 : Quantities (tonnes) of PCBs Destroyed in Canada subject to the PCB Regulations (2008-2019)
2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
8.2 583 1257.1 328.4 420.3 262 575.3 188.7 125.5 17 13.7 198.2

The figure above indicates that the greatest quantities of PCBs were destroyed in 2010 and then again in 2014. This likely resulted from the destruction of equipment that was removed from use prior to the end-of-use deadlines of December 31, 2009 and December 31, 2014. It is expected that there will be another peak in destruction leading up to and beyond the upcoming 2025 deadline.

3.0 Scope of the Proposed Amendments

The Department is considering amendments that would address issues related to radioactive PCBs and to the import of PCB waste. The scope of these potential amendments is outlined under Sections 3.1 and 3.2 of this document.

The Department also intends to continue to engage with stakeholders in addressing their challenges associated with the removal of (non-radioactive) PCB-containing equipment from use by the 2025 end-of-use deadline, while complying with obligations under the Stockholm Convention. The Department will seek to better comprehend these challenges, and in parallel will conduct planned compliance promotion activities to ensure that stakeholders continue to prepare for the deadline.

3.1 Radioactive PCBs

There are issues affiliated with meeting the storage and destruction timelines of the Regulations specifically for PCBs that are radioactive, given the lack of destruction capabilities in Canada for radioactive PCB waste.

There is PCB-containing equipment located in highly radioactive areas at certain nuclear facilities. These areas with high radiation fields are designed to prevent releases of radioactive material into the environment and are rarely accessed during reactor operation. The removal of such equipment from these restricted areas would risk exposure to high radiation fields and could lead to unnecessary radiation doses to employees that could affect their health and safety. In addition, there is currently no legal disposal pathway for inventories of radioactively contaminated PCB waste in Canada, as there are no facilities in Canada that can destroy such waste. There are facilities in the U.S. that can deal with radioactive PCB-contaminated waste; however, export is not possible, as currently the U.S. is not accepting imports of PCB waste in concentrations of 2 mg/kg or more (see Section 2.3.4 of this document).

The Department is considering whether additional time could be implemented for the removal of equipment located in radioactive areas, and whether the radioactive PCBs can continue to be stored on site in licensed approved containment facilities until there is a feasible, safe way to remove and destroy them. As such, the Department is considering an extension to the one-year storage deadline for the nuclear facilities that are storing radioactive PCBs. These facilities would not include authorized transfer sites or authorized destruction facilities. This extension would only be limited to radioactive PCB waste, with a requirement to destroy the waste once it is safe to do so and once there are facilities available for conducting the destruction.

3.2 Import of Non-Radioactive PCB Waste

There are issues associated with permitting the import of hazardous PCB waste in concentrations of 50 mg/kg or more, while prohibiting the import of waste containing non-hazardous PCBs in concentrations of 2 mg/kg or more but less than 50 mg/kg. The handling and transport of waste containing PCBs in concentrations of 50 mg/kg or more is controlled through the EIHWHRMR, and the PCB Waste Export Regulations, 1996. However, these Regulations do not control the transport of PCB waste containing concentrations below 50 mg/kg. Meanwhile, the PCB Regulations prohibit the import of PCB waste in concentrations of 2 mg/kg or more. This has resulted in a situation in which PCB-containing waste in concentrations between 2 mg/kg to 50 mg/kg cannot be imported in or exported out of the country. Consequently, hazardous waste importers are unable to import such waste for the purposes of safe disposal.

The Department is considering removing the prohibition on the import of PCB waste in concentrations of 2 mg/kg or more. This would allow waste importers to import a wider range of waste, including waste that contains PCBs in concentrations of 2 mg/kg or more but less than 50 mg/kg for the purposes of safe disposal.

4.0 Contact information

The Department is seeking your views and comments on the issues and potential regulatory changes described above to inform the review process.

Stakeholders are invited to provide written comments on this discussion document during a 60-day comment period, which will end on November 23, 2020. All input will be considered in drafting proposed amendments, if warranted. The proposed amendments would be published in the Canada Gazette, Part I for an official public comment period. 

Please send your comments on this discussion document to the following address.

Email: ec.bpc-pcb.ec@canada.ca

Please put “Consultation - Potential Amendments to the PCB Regulations” in the subject line of your message.

ECCC welcomes the further distribution of this document.

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