In Japan, the Kanemi Oil Poisoning Case in 1968 led to freeze production of PCB (Polychlorinated Biphenyl), and holders were forced to store contaminated products. In 2001 the "Law concerning Special Measures for Promotion of Proper Treatment of PCB Wastes " was enacted and it became imperative that all PCBs be treated by deadline set by the government.
Background of PCB Issues in Japan
PCB, an industrially synthesized compound with excellent insulation and heat-resisting properties, was used for various items such as electrical insulation oil, heat medium oil in transformers and capacitors, and carbonless paper. Between the start of production in 1954 and end in 1972, approximately 59,000 tons of PCBs were manufactured in Japan.
However, the breakout of the Kanemi Oil Poisoning Case proved the toxicity of PCBs, and production and distribution of PCB was put to a stop via administrative guidances in 1972. In 1974, "Law Concerning the Examination and Regulation of Manufacture, etc., of Chemical Substances (Class I)" was enacted, and manufacturing, importing and new use of PCB was prohibited.
The establishment of PCB treatment facilities by private initiative did not succeed, because of strong opposition from residents living nearby candidate sites. Thus most of the banned PCB products are still stored at their holder's sites, and fear of damage to the environment caused by leakage, misplacement or dumping of the wastes is still a crucial issue.
With evidence of long-range transport of PCBs to regions where they have never been used and the consequent threats they pose to the environment of the whole world, UNEP adopted the "Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)" in 2001, to reduce and abolish organic pollutants such as PCBs. Many advanced countries have already finished treating PCBs, and it is desirable for Japan to follow.
The Law concerning Special Measures for Promotion of Proper Treatment of PCB Wastes was enacted in Japan in 2001, and is now in effect to promote proper treatment of PCB waste. The Ministry of the Environment has put the promotion of PCB waste treatment at the top of the agenda for the 21st century.
What are PCBs?
Properties of PCB
PCB is an abbreviation of Poly Chlorinated Biphenyl, a group of compounds. There are theoretically 209 different isomeric forms which differ by number and position of chlorine. Among the forms is a group called coplanar PCB, a kind of dioxin which is highly toxic.
PCB is difficult to solve, has a high boiling point, heat-resistant, has high electric insulation properties, and is chemically stable. Thus PCB was used in many electrical products.
Toxicity of PCB
PCB is oil-soluble and thus chronic ingestion causes accumulation within body fats, evoking various symptoms.
The Kanemi Rice Oil Poisoning Case led to bring the toxicity of PCB to public attention. This food pollution case spread throughout West Japan in Oct. 1968, to people who took rice bran oil contaminated with PCBs used as heat medium for deodorization processes. The number of victims at the time counted over 13,000.
In general, poisoning symptoms of PCBs are: eye mucus, pigmentation in nails and oral mucous membranes, black eczema, deformation of nails, and swelling eyelids and joints.
Major Products which used PCBs
Below are pictures of high-voltage transformers, high-voltage capacitors, and ballasts, which are representative products that used PCB.
A transformer is a device that changes voltage in factories or buildings. A capacitor is a device that temporarily stores electricity, and controls voltage, used in many industries including small companies.
Some of the industrial flourescents manufactured before August of 1972 may contain PCB.
Electrical machinery contaminated by small amount of PCB
Although manufacturing of PCB was banned in 1972, extremely low-concentration PCB (ranging from a few mg/kg to 100mg/kg) has been found from electrical machinery which do not use PCB. According to the Ministry of the Environment, the amount is estimated to be up to 4,500,000 units for electrical machinery, and 1400 km for OF cables. Although the concentration of PCB are low, such machinery require proper treatment.
PCB Treatment Standards in Japan
Under the "Waste Disposal and Public Cleansing Law (Law No.137 of 1970)", treated PCB wastes must undergo PCB elimination tests according to waste type, and PCB concentration clear the following standards:
PCB Treatment Methods permitted in Japan
New PCB treatment technologies cannot be used in Japan until officially approved. The Waste Management Law regulates PCB waste treatment methods permitted in Japan. To get approval, the methods must be evaluated by the central government, and afterwards approved by the law. Besides PCB incineration at over 1,100 degrees celsius for over 2 seconds retention time, the following chemical treatment methods are allowed as of April 2005 (InformalTranslation).
The Waste Management Law requires incineration facilities, decomposition facilities, and cleaning and separating facilities to receive permits as industrial waste treatment facilities from the prefecture (or government-decreed cities) where established.