1. Brief Description of PCBs
Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) are a class of synthetic organic chemicals. Since the 1930s, PCBs were used globally for a variety of industrial uses (mainly as dielectric fluids in capacitors and transformers but also as flame retardants, ink solvents, plasticizers, etc.) because of their chemical stability.
In the 1970s it became generally recognized that their chemical stability also represented a serious threat to human health and the environment if they were released. PCBs are considered to be immune-toxic and affect reproduction with specific adverse effects associated to the chronic exposure being damage to the immune system, liver, skin, reproductive system, gastrointestinal tract and thyroid gland.
While local impacts close to the source of release of these chemicals into the environment are of concern, the primary impacts are widely distributed and effectively global in nature, given the chemical’s characteristics of bio-accumulating higher in the food chain and being subject to long range, multi media transport mechanisms.
2. Project background
The data collected in October 2005 indicated the existence of 343 transformers in Rwanda, assumed to contain PCBs as dielectric fluids. This corresponds to around 154 tons of fluids containing PCBs and 353 tons of solid wastes contaminated with PCBs. In addition, two sites were considered as being potentially contaminated by PCBs oils. Also, information collected revealed practices which facilitate the spread of PCBs and PCBs contaminated wastes.
In this context, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded the Project Preparation Grant (PPG), which resulted in – amongst others – the following findings:
Furthermore, PCB fluids are being mixed with mineral dielectric oils during maintenance and subsequently reused in previously uncontaminated transformers, thereby cross-contaminating, potentially, the whole transformer population.
Owners and holders of PCB equipment are hampered in their efforts to improve management standards because the relatively small market for such work in each country inhibits local investment by service providers. Access to international service provision is both difficult and expensive. Current local waste management of PCB equipment results in uncontrolled PCB releases from unprotected metal reclamation or, worse, the selling of PCB oils for local open uses. Such uses pose significant health and environmental threats and are not permitted under the Stockholm Convention.
Rwanda is committed to safe management of PCB as demonstrated by signature of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and its subsequent ratification on 19 July 2006. For planning appropriate action in the field of controlling POPs substances and releases as well as fulfilling the reporting requirements of the Convention, Government of Rwanda developed an Action Plan for PCB management as a part of its draft National Implementation Plan (NIP) on POPs.
The PCB Action Plan evolved into a project called “Management and Disposal of PCBs in Rwanda” which is a joint undertaking by The Government of Rwanda, public/private sector partners and UNDP. The Global Environment Facility is providing substantive grant funding for co-financing the project.
3. Project objective
The objective of this project is to reduce environmental and human health risks from PCBs releases through the introduction of cost-effective environmentally sound management (ESM) to PCB oils, equipment and wastes held by electrical utilities in the country.
4. Project components
Component 1: Complete PCB inventory through enhanced cooperation with the Government bodies and equipment holders and selection of options for PCB disposal.
Component 2: Legislative support to aid the operation of PCB management system:
This component addresses the major gaps in national regulation identified through a life cycle approach: export and import, use,maintenance, transport, storage, disposal, recycling to reduce the health impact of PCB and the release and transfer of PCB in the environment.
Component 3: Stakeholders and public sensitized, PCB equipment holders handle equipment in well informed and responsible manner:
This component addresses specific support technical capacity needs related to PCB management, awareness, regulatory and operational perspectives. As such it is intended to directly support the other components and their outputs
The outcome is: Public sensitization and information of PCB risks and PCB holders aware and avoid equipment leakages and cross-contamination.
Component 4: Safe disposal of PCB equipment, oils and waste material
This is directed to developing the basic infrastructure and expertise needed to ensure secure handling, transport, maintenance, storage for PCB wastes and stockpiles to be accumulated in the future, environmentally sound disposals of priority stockpiles available during project implementation and undertake detailed feasibility work on developing local/regional capacity to process PCB stockpiles such that disposal costs are optimized.
Component 5: Project management
The project management involves REMA staff and national expert for administrative follow up and accounting.