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DRBC Establishes New Rule To Reduce PCB Levels In The Delaware River
Commission Sets Goal of 50% Reduction in Next Five Years

For Immediate Release

May 25, 2005

(WEST TRENTON, N.J.)  --  The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) on May 18 unanimously adopted a rule to establish pollutant minimization plan (PMP) requirements for point and non-point discharges of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the Delaware Estuary. It also set a goal of reducing PCB loadings by 50% in five years.

"We believe this progressive action taken by the commissioners to require waste minimization and reduction plans will prove to be a significant pollution control milestone in the continuing efforts to reduce levels of PCBs in the tidal Delaware River and Bay," DRBC Executive Director Carol R. Collier said. "While the ultimate goal of the commission and its members is to meet water quality standards and eliminate fish consumption advisories, establishing a target reduction in PCB loadings of 50% in five years provides an important benchmark for judging the effectiveness of pollutant minimization plans over the short term," Collier added.

In December 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established Stage 1 Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for PCBs in the tidal Delaware River between Trenton, N.J. and the Delaware Bay under a court-mandated deadline based on several years of technical work conducted by the DRBC. A TMDL sets the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive without violating applicable water quality standards and allocates that amount among sources in the watershed -- both point (end-of-pipe) and non-point (runoff). Dischargers must reduce loads to the allocated levels in order to achieve and maintain the standards.

"A non-numeric approach to implementing the Stage 1 TMDLs was taken, in part because it was understood that dischargers could not reduce their PCB loadings quickly enough to comply with numeric limits," Collier said. The PMP rule embodies the principle of adaptive management, which encourages experimentation, measurement, and readjustment depending on the results of the actions taken. It reflects an awareness that while dramatic reductions in loadings from all source categories will be required to achieve the PCB TMDLs over several decades, uncertainty as to the effectiveness of any particular reduction activity currently persists.

"The rule change provides the commission with the regulatory authority to require PMPs before permits are reissued by the states, thus ensuring that steps to improve the estuary’s water quality begin sooner," Collier said.

Under the May 18 rule, dischargers will identify known and potential sources of PCBs, identify procedures for tracking down unknown sources of the pollutant, and identify and implement strategies for minimizing or preventing releases from all identified sources. Dischargers will measure and periodically report progress made in reducing loadings. Initially, permittees responsible for 60 point source discharges will be required to develop and implement PMPs and to monitor their PCB discharges.

In light of the importance of contributions of PCB pollution from non-point sources, the rule allows the commission to require PMPs for contaminated sites where releases from the sites are not being addressed entirely through other state or federal regulatory programs.

"Commission staff began drafting this proposal in May 2004, and it has benefited from extensive public input," Collier said. "Representatives from industry, municipal wastewater treatment plants, environmental organizations, and regulatory agencies all have expressed support for this approach to reducing PCB contamination in the Delaware River and Bay."

The commissioners provided that a peer review advisory committee will be established to evaluate the PMPs and advise regulators on their anticipated effectiveness. The committee also will provide advice on additional measures that may be practicable.

PCBs, which have been classified by EPA as a probable human carcinogen, are present in the waters of the Delaware Estuary at concentrations 1,000 times higher than the water quality criteria. The U.S. banned the manufacture and general use of PCBs in the late 1970s, but not before 1.5 billion pounds of the substance was produced. PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment because they don't burn easily and are good insulators. Despite the ban, equipment containing PCBs are still in use due to the extended life span of the equipment. The chemical stability of PCBs, which encouraged their use in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications, also allows them to persist in the environment. PCBs enter fish and other wildlife through absorption or ingestion, and accumulate in their tissues at levels many times higher than in the surrounding water and at levels unsuitable for human consumption.

The DRBC was formed by compact in 1961 through legislation signed into law by President John F. Kennedy and the governors of the four basin states with land drained by the Delaware River (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania). The passage of this compact marked the first time in our nation’s history that the federal government and a group of states joined together as equal partners in a river basin planning, development, and regulatory agency.

For more information, visit the DRBC’s web site at www.drbc.net.

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Clarke Rupert, (609) 883-9500 ext. 260
Robert Tudor, (609) 883-9500 ext. 208

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