The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Arrives

Here's how the term “PCB” achieved worldwide notoriety almost overnight.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created by Congress in 1970. Within just a few years, the EPA began to study reports of ill effects in humans who had come into skin contact with, or had inhaled fumes from Askarel fluids, and studied incidents of genetic disorders where Askarel had entered into the human food chain. Research studies showed that somewhere between 30% and 70% of the chemical composition of most Askarel was “polychlorinated biphenyl” and thus, the term “PCB” achieved worldwide notoriety almost overnight.

Modern liquid-filled secondary substation transformer. Courtesy: Schneider Electric, Inc.After widely publicized research studies and public hearings (and a few criminal prosecutions), the EPA issued a formal ban on production of PCB in 1979, and issued a long list of mostly confusing regulations to American companies about what to do with the millions of tons of Askarel that were already in active service in electrical equipment everywhere inside and outside their plants.

The formal ban of PCB hit American industry like a bombshell, and left thousands of companies struggling in search of acceptable alternatives. Some alternatives that soon emerged were silicone fluids, high molecular weight hydrocarbons (R-Temp, for one), and perchloroethylene, as retro-fill substitute fluids in existing equipment, as well as for use in new transformers.

A large new cottage industry immediately sprouted, with hundreds of companies specializing in the replacement, removal, and legal incineration of Askarel fluids.

Westinghouse had reasonably good success with producing new transformers that were filled with percloroethylene, under the trade name Wecosol. GE took a slightly different approach with an interesting transformer design trade-named VaporTran, using CFC-113 as the dielectric fluid. A clever and effective design, it used the principle of evaporative cooling for keeping the transformer windings cooled and insulated.

After a few years of study of these new replacement fluids, the EPA found major problems with almost all of them.

The EPA eventually found perchloroethylene to be an even more serious toxin than the PCB it replaced. Silicone fluid was found to have about zero biogradeability—you could cart it off to a landfill at end of life, and it would never go away. R-Temp was classified as a “hazmat hydrocarbon” —if it ever spilled or leaked inside your plant, you’d have to notify the EPA, fill out a lot of incident reports, and call in a hazmat cleanup team. GE’s CFC-113 was found to be a somewhat dangerous fluorocarbon that could damage the earth’s upper atmosphere ozone layer.

American industry in general had spent many tens of billions of dollars in trying to find effective solutions for replacing Askarel fluids, and now the industry was essentially being commanded to do it all over again, to remove and replace most of the more modern replacement fluids, all under the watchful eye of the EPA.

Canada also went through a similar national remediation process, a few years behind the U.S., but with less rigorous government regulation that actually caused much less consistent results than in the U.S.

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Raising the standard: What's new with NFPA 70E; A global view of manufacturing; Maintenance data; Fit bearings properly
Sister act: Building on their father's legacy, a new generation moves Bales Metal Surface Solutions forward; Meet the 2015 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Pipeline vulnerabilities? Securing hydrocarbon transit; Predictive analytics hit the mainstream; Dirty pipelines decrease flow, production—pig your line; Ensuring pipeline physical and cyber security
Upgrading secondary control systems; Keeping enclosures conditioned; Diagnostics increase equipment uptime; Mechatronics simplifies machine design
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Building high availability into industrial computers; Of key metrics and myth busting; The truth about five common VFD myths

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.