The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Arrives

Here's how the term “PCB” achieved worldwide notoriety almost overnight.

04/18/2012



The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created by Congress in 1970. Within just a few years, the EPA began to study reports of ill effects in humans who had come into skin contact with, or had inhaled fumes from Askarel fluids, and studied incidents of genetic disorders where Askarel had entered into the human food chain. Research studies showed that somewhere between 30% and 70% of the chemical composition of most Askarel was “polychlorinated biphenyl” and thus, the term “PCB” achieved worldwide notoriety almost overnight.

Modern liquid-filled secondary substation transformer. Courtesy: Schneider Electric, Inc.After widely publicized research studies and public hearings (and a few criminal prosecutions), the EPA issued a formal ban on production of PCB in 1979, and issued a long list of mostly confusing regulations to American companies about what to do with the millions of tons of Askarel that were already in active service in electrical equipment everywhere inside and outside their plants.

The formal ban of PCB hit American industry like a bombshell, and left thousands of companies struggling in search of acceptable alternatives. Some alternatives that soon emerged were silicone fluids, high molecular weight hydrocarbons (R-Temp, for one), and perchloroethylene, as retro-fill substitute fluids in existing equipment, as well as for use in new transformers.

A large new cottage industry immediately sprouted, with hundreds of companies specializing in the replacement, removal, and legal incineration of Askarel fluids.

Westinghouse had reasonably good success with producing new transformers that were filled with percloroethylene, under the trade name Wecosol. GE took a slightly different approach with an interesting transformer design trade-named VaporTran, using CFC-113 as the dielectric fluid. A clever and effective design, it used the principle of evaporative cooling for keeping the transformer windings cooled and insulated.

After a few years of study of these new replacement fluids, the EPA found major problems with almost all of them.

The EPA eventually found perchloroethylene to be an even more serious toxin than the PCB it replaced. Silicone fluid was found to have about zero biogradeability—you could cart it off to a landfill at end of life, and it would never go away. R-Temp was classified as a “hazmat hydrocarbon” —if it ever spilled or leaked inside your plant, you’d have to notify the EPA, fill out a lot of incident reports, and call in a hazmat cleanup team. GE’s CFC-113 was found to be a somewhat dangerous fluorocarbon that could damage the earth’s upper atmosphere ozone layer.

American industry in general had spent many tens of billions of dollars in trying to find effective solutions for replacing Askarel fluids, and now the industry was essentially being commanded to do it all over again, to remove and replace most of the more modern replacement fluids, all under the watchful eye of the EPA.

Canada also went through a similar national remediation process, a few years behind the U.S., but with less rigorous government regulation that actually caused much less consistent results than in the U.S.



No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners.
Control Engineering Leaders Under 40 identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Learn more about methods used to ensure that the integration between the safety system and the process control...
Adding industrial toughness and reliability to Ethernet eGuide
Technological advances like multiple-in-multiple-out (MIMO) transmitting and receiving
Virtualization advice: 4 ways splitting servers can help manufacturing; Efficient motion controls; Fill the brain drain; Learn from the HART Plant of the Year
Two sides to process safety: Combining human and technical factors in your program; Preparing HMI graphics for migrations; Mechatronics and safety; Engineers' Choice Awards
Detecting security breaches: Forensic invenstigations depend on knowing your networks inside and out; Wireless workers; Opening robotic control; Product exclusive: Robust encoders
The Ask Control Engineering blog covers all aspects of automation, including motors, drives, sensors, motion control, machine control, and embedded systems.
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
News and comments from Control Engineering process industries editor, Peter Welander.
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
This is a blog from the trenches – written by engineers who are implementing and upgrading control systems every day across every industry.
Anthony Baker is a fictitious aggregation of experts from Callisto Integration, providing manufacturing consulting and systems integration.
Integrator Guide

Integrator Guide

Search the online Automation Integrator Guide
 

Create New Listing

Visit the System Integrators page to view past winners of Control Engineering's System Integrator of the Year Award and learn how to enter the competition. You will also find more information on system integrators and Control System Integrators Association.

Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Control Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.