Argentina to Eliminate PCBs

By Alejandra Herranz

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, May 4, 2001 (ENS) - Argentina has taken the first steps down the long road to elimination of polychorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the country.

Argentine Minister of Social Development and Environment Juan Pablo Cafiero and National Secretary of Sustainable Development and Environmental Policy Dr. Oscar Massei, today announced the start of a National Plan for the Elimination of Polyclorinated Biphenyls.

At the same time, they introduced several drafts for a future Law of Minimum Budgets in the management of hazardous waste.

The announcements were made today in the closing session of the meetings of the Federal Council of Environment (COFEMA). "We will work together with the provinces to improve the people's living conditions, particularly for those populations who are unprivileged. We have a federal vocation to reach our aims for sustainability," Minister Cafiero said.

Secretary Massei explained that his agency is carrying out an inventory of the existance and location of PCBs, which are still used as a cooling agents for electricity transformers in the country. "Once we have gathered all the information, we will promote a draft forbidding the use of PCBs," Massei said.

PCBs are a family of manufactured chemicals that contain 209 individual compounds with varying toxicity. PCBs have been used widely as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment. They are very persistent chemicals that are widely distributed throughout the entire environment.

The manufacture of PCBs stopped in the United States in October 1977 because of evidence that PCBs accumulate in the environment and may cause health hazards for humans.

The Argentine initiative forbidding the use of PCBs was recently given new life at an official level due to a request from the United States to dispose of PCBs in Argentina, according to Massei.

The Argentine authorities aim to bring about the gradual elimination of PCBs in the country by 2025. For this purpose, the Secretary will work together with the provincial agencies which regulate the activity of electricity in each province, to make an inventory of PCBs across the country.

Massei

Argentine National Secretary of Sustainable Development and Environmental Policy Dr. Oscar Massei (Photo courtesy Office of the Secretary)
Argentina has no treatment plant for PCBs. Instead, they are exported as hazardous waste to be treated in Belgium, France or England. "However, this mechanism has an annual limit of tons," Massei admitted.

Argentine electric utilities Edenor and Edesur eliminated PCBs from their transformers in 2000.

According to official sources, at present the electric utilities export the PCBs as hazardous waste or store it until the waste can be sent outside the country.

In order to eliminate or minimize bureaucracy, COFEMA has submitted to the Executive a draft on Minimum Budgets for the Management of Hazardous Waste. In turn, the Executive will submit it to the Congress. "This will turn into an improvement in registration and control," said Massei.

PCBs can be released into the environment from poorly maintained toxic waste sites; illegal or improper dumping of PCB wastes, such as transformer fluids; leaks or fugitive emissions from electrical transformers containing PCBs, and disposal of PCB containing consumer products into municipal landfills rather than into landfills designed to hold hazardous wastes.

PCBs have been linked to cancer, especially to liver cancer, and to other reproductive and developmental effects upon human health.