Over the past week I’ve been reading Nate Silver’s book, “The Signal and the Noise, Why So Many Predictions Fail, but Some Don’t“.  Early on, he includes this completely on-point quote that he attributes to the great author Douglas Adams:

“The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that can not possibly go wrong is that when a thing that can not possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair”.

I dedicate this post to my friends at One Ashburton Place.

Following months of internal review, the USEPA has decided to broaden its interpretation of the “PCB bulk products” definition under the PCB regulations, 40 CFR 761 (see EPA memorandum).  This change benefits the regulated community by simplifying the removal of PCBs from buildings.


On February 29th this year, EPA published a Federal Register notice soliciting comments on a proposal to reinterpret its definition of PCB bulk product waste.  PCB bulk product waste includes building materials like PCB containing caulk, paints and other surface finishes.  The PCB regulations are relatively lenient towards the management of these materials, allowing them to be removed and disposed of in municipal landfills without the notification or specific permission of EPA.  These PCB bulk products often have a PCB content of 10% PCB or even greater.

PCB bulk products frequently contaminate abutting building materials, such as brick, concrete and wood.   However, these abutting materials have not been considered to be bulk products under the regulations, instead they were classified as “remediation waste”.  Although this remediation waste generally contained much lower PCB concentrations than the bulk product contamination source, it was subject to stricter management requirements.  These management requirements included notifying of EPA of its presence, obtaining approval of a remediation plan and disposal of the material at a TSCA permitted landfill.  The new interpretation partially levels the playing field.


Going forward, the materials that became PCB contaminated due to their proximity to bulk products may also be managed as PCB bulk products instead of being managed as remediation waste; this is a significant improvement over the previous interpretation.  However, there is an important consideration to keep in mind when planning a PCB bulk product removal project.  The reinterpretation only applies when the original bulk product is still adhering to the contaminated abutting material at the time the material is designated for disposal.  If this designation does not take place before the bulk product is removed, then like Cinderella’s carriage turning back into a pumpkin, the abutting PCBs turn back into a remediation waste.

For help on differentiating between PCB remediation waste and PCB bulk products, please reach me at okun@oto-env.com.