Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)
PCBs are man-made chemicals. They are dangerous to human health and the environment and you must dispose of them correctly.
Equipment that often contains PCBs includes:
- electrical transformers
- power factor capacitors
- heat transfer equipment
- pole-mounted transformers
- process heating equipment
- high temperature hydraulic systems
- electrical resistors
- bushings and other high voltage equipment
- fluorescent light ballasts
- hospital diagnostic equipment
- vacuum pumps.
What you must do
You must arrange for the safe disposal or decontamination of all equipment that contains PCBs as soon as possible. When the equipment is ready to be disposed of, it will be regarded as hazardous/special waste.
If you possess any components that contain PCBs that are part of a larger piece of equipment, and neither the component nor the larger equipment is classed as Contaminated Equipment you may continue to possess them until the larger piece of equipment is taken out of use for example, capacitors within fluorescent lighting strips. You must dispose of the equipment correctly at the end of its useful life.
Contaminated Equipment is any equipment that contains five litres or more of any substance with a PCB concentration greater than 50 parts per million (ppm).
You must not possess Contaminated Equipment unless your business:
- Has the proper authorisation to decontaminate or dispose of PCBs and holds them only for this reason.
- Uses PCBs only for analytical or research work. You must ensure that you dispose of the PCBs properly when this purpose comes to an end.
- Uses transformers with PCB oil at concentrations of no more than 500 parts per million (ppm). You can continue to use the transformer until the end of its useful life. You should still register the equipment and renew the registration annually if it contains oil with a PCB concentration at or above 50ppm.
- Transformers with a concentration of PCB oil greater than 500ppm (but less than 50ppm), or a total volume of PCBs greater than 0.05 litres (50ml) can be used until 31 December 2025. They must then be either decontaminated or disposed of as soon as possible.
If you possess Contaminated Equipment you must register it with your environmental regulator, even if you are about to dispose of it.
You must also register any equipment that could potentially be Contaminated Equipment unless it is reasonable to assume that it is not contaminated.
You must renew your registrations annually for as long as you have the equipment.
Disposal and decontamination
You should arrange for the safe decontamination or disposal of all Contaminated Equipment you possess as soon as possible, unless you are permitted to continue possessing the equipment for the reasons outlined above.
Decontamination reduces the PCB concentration of Contaminated Equipment to less than 50ppm. When you submit your registration or renewal paperwork you should tell your environmental regulator how and when you plan to have the decontamination work done.
Scotland: regulations from 2020
(SSI 2020/434) entered into force on 14 February 2021.
These regulations introduce a timetable for the ending of derogations and the restriction of use of PCBs in a number of places:
From 1 January 2023
- Use fire-fighting foam containing PFOA shall only be allowed in sites where all releases can be contained.
From 4 July 2023 Derogation ends, and PFOA restrictions apply to:
- textiles for the protection of workers,
- membranes intended for use in medical textiles, gas filtration and water filtration,
- industrial waste heat exchanger equipment, and
- industrial sealants preventing leakage of volatile organic compounds and PM2.5 particulates.
From 4 July 2025 Derogation ends, and PFOA restrictions apply to:
- photographic coatings applied to films, papers or printing plates,
- photolithography processes,
- invasive and implantable medical devices, and
- fire-fighting foam mixtures already installed in systems.
From 31 December 2025
- All equipment containing more than 0.005% PCBs or PCB volumes greater than 0.05 dm3 should be removed by 31 December 2025
You should de-register your Contaminated Equipment after its disposal, decontamination or sale.
You will need to provide evidence such as:
- consignment note numbers
- laboratory test reports
- contact details of the new owner.
Any new owner of Contaminated Equipment must register it with their environmental regulator.
You must clearly label all Contaminated Equipment as containing PCBs and place warning notices on the doors of any premises where the equipment is held. Transformers that are held until the end of their useful life should also have an additional label showing they have been decontaminated to below 500ppm.
For more information, contact your environmental regulator.
Scotland: SEPA PCBs regulations guidance (Adobe PDF - 33KB)
PCBs Charging Scheme (Adobe PDF - 105KB)