A New Look at PCB-related Risks in Property Redevelopment

Ross Simmons Project Manager GRS | Corteq

Ross Simmons
Project Manager
GRS | Corteq

Demolition or renovation projects always present surprises and challenges. But, by 2017 dealing with asbestos and lead-based paint issues has become pretty routine for developers, lenders and consultants. And we all know PCBs are a potential issue in old electrical transformers. But, with every year that passes there are fewer PCB-contaminated transformers around, and besides they are usually the responsibility of the utility company anyway.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment because they don’t burn easily and are good insulators. The manufacture of PCBs was stopped in the U.S. in 1977 because of evidence they build up in the environment and can cause harmful health effects.

But, now comes news of a new PCB-related threat for property owners working to re-develop older buildings. Ross Simmons, Tony Mueller and Mark Halloran recently represented GRS | Corteq at the summer conference of the Environmental Bankers Association where attendees heard that PCBs may be present in a variety of building materials such as caulk, window glazing compounds, paint, mastic, gaskets in air handling systems, and sound-deadening felt. Use of PCBs in building materials was most common in structures built or renovated from the 1950s through the 1970s.

A panel of speakers – Bill Hayden of Citizens Bank, a consultant, an attorney and a representative from the EPA’s Boston office – shared experiences from redevelopment projects where PCBs were discovered in unexpected places in the building, adding significant delays and costs to the project. Extensive sampling was required since on-site mixing of materials such as caulk and paint led to heterogeneous concentrations. In addition, PCBs from these materials were found to have leached at uneven rates into surrounding materials, such as brick and mortar. PCBs were even discovered within apparently solid marble walls, as well as in soil around the building foundations.

Response actions, performed under supervision of the EPA, required removal and disposal of PCB-containing materials before proceeding with other demolition work. While EPA representatives have been very helpful, working with the redevelopment team to approve sampling schemes and waste management plans, the regulatory review has still added significant unexpected delays to construction schedules. Kim Tisa of EPA told the Environmental Bankers panel that a 6-month review period was not unusual for EPA to sort through the myriad issues involved.

Although these new PCB-related questions are most common in the northeastern states where there is a greater concentration of older buildings that are candidates for renovation, Ms. Tisa stated that similar projects have now surfaced in each of the EPA Regions.

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