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The DRBC Unveils New Management Tools To Combat PCBs

For Immediate Release

September 17, 2003

(WEST TRENTON, N.J.)  - Management tools which will play a key role in a program to reduce the amount of polychorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the Delaware River will be the subject of public meetings next week in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey.

The tools, known in regulatory jargon as Total Maximum Daily Loads (or TMDLs), were prepared by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) and are being established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of an ongoing program to protect human health and aquatic life in the river.

A TMDL is essentially a "pollution budget." It sets the maximum amount of a specific pollutant that can be assimilated by a river or stream without violating applicable water quality standards. It then allocates that amount among all sources in the watershed -- both point and non-point -- which must then reduce loads to the allocated levels in order to achieve and maintain the standards.

The commission, working in concert with Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, the EPA, and other partners, developed four TMDLs to address different water quality zones in the river's tidal reach, the 85-mile stretch from Trenton, N.J., downstream to the head of the Delaware Bay, near Liston Point, Del.

Each TMDL must provide for the achievement of the applicable water quality standard within the zone and also must ensure that water quality in downstream zones is adequately protected.

The EPA has classified PCBs as a probable human carcinogen. The United States banned the manufacturing of PCBs in the late1970s. Prior to that, 1.5 billion pounds of the substance were manufactured in this country and used in thousands of industrial and commercial applications, including electrical transformers and in paint, plastic, and rubber products.

The public informational meetings will be held from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. on September 22 in Wilmington, Del., (Carvel State Office Building, 820 North French St.); September 24 in Trenton. N.J., (NJDEP offices, 401 East State St.); and September 25 in Conshohocken, Pa., (PADEP offices, Lee Park, 555 North Lane). A public hearing will be held from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. on October 16 in Philadelphia (Independence Visitor Center, One North Independence Mall West) where the public can offer comments for the record. Written comments also may be submitted to the EPA on or before October 21.

The deadline for the EPA to approve the TMDLs is December 15, a date set in a lawsuit against the federal government.

"These pollution budgets will facilitate the development of clean-up plans to protect both human health and the environment," noted Carol R. Collier, the DRBC's executive director. "The ultimate goal is removal of fish consumption advisories that have been issued by the three states due to elevated concentrations of PCBs in fish tissue."

In the spring of 2000, the states and EPA asked the commission to take the lead in developing the technical basis for the TMDLs. DRBC staff worked closely with the commission's Toxics Advisory Committee, comprised of representatives from the states, the EPA, municipal and industrial dischargers, academia, agriculture, public health, environmental organizations, and fish and wildlife interests.

The four TMDLs published this week on the DRBC's web site (www.drbc.net) address point source (end-of-pipe) discharges from 92 municipal and industrial wastewater facilities along the river which are identified as potential sources of PCBs. They also highlight the challenge associated with reducing non-point PCB sources, such as stormwater runoff, Superfund sites, and air deposition of PCBs into the river.

The reduction in PCB levels will not be achieved overnight. Point source dischargers will be required to develop and implement PCB waste reduction plans, and non-point pollution reduction strategies will need to be developed. Fortunately, some large dischargers along the river already are conducting studies to track down PCBs on a voluntary basis.