Friday, October 4, 2013

EPA alerts on danger of PCBs

BY EDMUND SMITH-ASANTE

PCBs are found in old transformers
Lubricating oil found in old transformers are very poisonous but have found their way to the open market, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Ghana, has warned.
The oil, which serves as a coolant in old power generating transformers largely controlled by the Volta River Authority (VRA), Ghana Grid Company Limited (GRIDCo) and the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), contains cancer-causing chemicals referred to scientifically as Polychlorinated Biphensyls (PCBs).
PCBs can also be absorbed rapidly through the skin and cause internal injuries such as liver damage, while prolonged contact with the skin can result in rashes.
Intended purpose for PCBs
According to the EPA, the very toxic PCBs are stabilising compounds in the oil, which can be found in drum quantities in the old transformers belonging to the utility services.
But these are siphoned by people from both functioning and broken down transformers and sold as edible oil (for frying fish) and also used as a component in some hair creams, the EPA has cautioned.
The Environmental Protection Agency gave out the warning at a ‘High Level Sensitisation on the Management of Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Ghana’, in Accra today (Thursday).
It was essentially a briefing on the extent of work done under a GEF/UNDP/UNITAR/EPA-Ghana project on capacity building for the elimination of PCBs in Ghana.
Financed through a Global Environment Facility (GEF) fund, the programme, which commenced in 2009, has the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) as the EPA’s main partners for the elimination of PCBs in Ghana.
No law on PCB
In a keynote address read on her behalf, the Deputy Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) Dr (Mrs) Bernice Heloo, said although Ghana currently does not have any law on PCBs, the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1994 (Act 490), had adequate provision for their control.
She intimated that the capacity building project entailed strengthening of the legal framework, administrative and technical preparedness for sound PCB management; putting in place infrastructure for environmentally sound management of PCBs developed; environmentally sound replacement and disposal of PCB waste and equipment and; monitoring learning, adoptive feedback, outreach and evaluation.
Dr Bernice Heloo outlined achievements of the project so far; as the successful conducting of an inventory of over 9,000 transformers, the development of draft legislation on the control and management of PCBs, a draft communication strategy on PCBs and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), with some education and awareness creation material printed.
She also indicated that a draft environment and safety guideline on PCBs and draft PCB management development plan had also been developed and drawn respectively, while staff of ECG, VRA and GRIDCo and Customs had received training on the safe handling of PCBs and potentially PCB contaminated equipment.
Dr Heloo disclosed that a temporary storage site for old PCB-laden transformers had been secured at the ECG training school in Tema where about 116 pieces of pure PCB capacitors had been stock piled from Achimota and Tema in preparation for final disposal.
Presenting an update on the PCB project, Mr John Pwamang, EPA said a draft policy on POPs which included PCBs, had been adopted by Cabinet in May 2013, following which it would be sent to Parliament for review and acceptance.
He assured that new transformers brought into the country do not have PCBs.
Role of VRA, GRIDCo and ECG
Giving the perspectives of the utility companies, Mr Emmanuel Amekor, Manager, Utility, VRA, said the three utilities (VRA, GRIDCo and ECG) had so far contributed about US$1.6 million in kind towards the success of the PCB project.
Admitting that since 1993 when they began elimination of PCBs they had not been successful, he assured that no equipment laden with PCBs had been imported.
Hoping that by the end of 2013 they would be able to dispose of PCBs without external assistance, Mr Amekor assured judicial use of money contributed so far and commitment to programme by them.
Disposal of the PCB-laden old transformers that are being collected and gathered at Tema, can only be done by high temperature incinerators which currently can be found only in developed countries, according to the EPA.
Ghana is however yet to decide on the country where the old transformers being collected (40 tons currently) will be shipped for destruction.
Project partners
Speaking on behalf of partners UNITAR, Mr Nelson Manda described PCBs as the most dangerous substances made by man because they do not stay at one place.
He said it was in view of that that they had become a global concern, adding that as project partners they were assisting with locating where PCBs are, managing and disposing all stocks, supplying capacity to Ghana, and have contributed to the review of policies.
UNDP representative, Mr Etienne Gonin stated that the project was a very concrete one that was setting the right environment for Ghana.
UNIDO Country Representative, Mr Van Rompoey said his organisation was apart from partnering with other UN agencies to assist Ghana, was partnering the EPA on fishing technologies which he hoped would be implemented soon.
FACTS 
§  PCBs are used in capacitors and transformers as a lubricating and cooling fluid.
§  PCBc were used in hundreds of commercial appliances including heat transfer and hydraulic equipment; in paints, plastics and rubber products; in pigments, dyes and carbonless copy paper and many other applications as well as in old fluorescent light fixtures.
§  Appliances older than 1978 are more likely to contain PCBs
§  PCBs can cause long-lasting contamination of the soil and water supplies because they are non-biodegradable in nature.
§  They can accumulate in the environment because they break down very slowly and can be carried long distances in the air, in rivers, lakes and oceans. 
 This story was first published by the Daily Graphic on September 26, 2013