Delaware • New Jersey • Pennsylvania
New York • United States of America
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which have been classified by EPA as a probable human carcinogen, are a class of chemicals present in the waters of the Delaware Estuary at concentrations up to 1,000 times higher than the water quality criteria. PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment because they don't burn easily and are good insulators. The U.S. banned the manufacture and general use (with a few exceptions) of PCBs in the late 1970s, but not before 1.5 billion pounds of the substance was produced.
Despite the ban, equipment containing PCBs is still in use due to the extended life span of the equipment. The chemical stability of PCBs led to their use in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications, but also allows them to persist in the environment to this day. PCBs enter fish and other wildlife through absorption or ingestion, and accumulate in their tissues at levels many times higher than in the surrounding water and at levels unsuitable for human consumption.
There are numerous sources of PCBs in the Delaware Estuary. They include contaminated sites, non-point sources, industrial and municipal point source discharges, the main stem Delaware River above Trenton, tributaries to the Delaware both above and below Trenton, the atmosphere, combined sewer overflows (CSOs), and the Atlantic Ocean.
Because high levels of PCBs have resulted in state-issued fish consumption advisories for certain species caught in the Delaware Estuary, these waters were and continue to be listed as impaired, requiring the establishment of a PCB total maximum daily load (TMDL). A TMDL expresses the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still attain water quality standards.
At the request of the three estuary states and the U.S. EPA, DRBC has taken the lead in developing the technical basis for PCB Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for the Delaware Estuary (DRBC WQ Zones 2-6). The PCB TMDL for Zones 2-5 was established in 2003 and for Zone 6 in 2006. DRBC staff worked closely with the commission's Toxics Advisory Committee (TAC), an expert panel of scientists, and its TMDL Implementation Advisory Committee (IAC) on these efforts. To support TMDL implementation, DRBC monitors ambient waters, sediment, and fish tissue to provide precise and defensible data on PCB concentrations in the Delaware Estuary.
In 2013, DRBC adopted updated water quality criterion of 16 picograms/liter for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the Delaware Estuary and Bay for the protection of human health from carcinogenic effects. This number, based upon the most current methodology and scientific data available, is now a uniform value for the entire Delaware Estuary and Bay (DRBC Water Quality Zones 2-6). The updated PCB criterion was developed under the guidance of the TAC. With DRBC's adoption of revised PCB criterion, it is anticipated that the U.S. EPA will establish new TMDLs (Stage 2 TMDLs) corresponding to the updated criterion.
- Monitoring for PCBs
- Pollutant Minimization Plan (PMP) Information
- Water Quality Model for Carbon and PCB Homologs for Zones 2-6 of the Delaware River Estuary (pdf 7 MB; May 2011)
- PCB TMDL for DRBC Zone 6 (Delaware Bay) Established (U.S. EPA web site - pdf 1 MB; Dec. 2006)
- TMDL for PCBs for the Delaware Bay: DRBC Zone 6 (pdf 599 KB; presentation given by DRBC staff at Sept. 26, 2006 public meeting in Dover, Del.)
- Revised Calibration of the Water Quality Model for the Delaware Estuary for Penta-PCBs and Carbon (pdf 5.5 MB; Sept. 2006)
- PCB TMDLs for DRBC Zones 2-5 Established (U.S. EPA web site; Dec. 2003)
- Revised Human Health Criterion for PCBs for the Delaware Estuary using the 2000 U.S. EPA Methodology (pdf 60 KB)
- NO. 2013-8: Resolution to Amend the Comprehensive Plan, Water Code, and Administrative Manual - Part III Water Quality Regulations to Revise the Stream Quality Objectives for Total Polychlorinated Biphenyls (Total PCBs) for the Delaware River Estuary and Delaware Bay for the Protection of Human Health from Carcinogenic Effects. (pdf 20 KB; December 2013)
- NO. 2006-8: Resolution Establishing the PMP Peer Review Advisory Committee (pdf 17 KB; May 2006)
- NO. 2005-19: Resolution Directing the DRBC Executive Director to Secure from EPA Regional Administrators their Written Concurrence as to the Water Quality (WQ) Endpoints for the PCB TMDL to be Developed for Zone 6; to Proceed with Notice and Comment Rulemaking on a Revised Human Health WQ Criterion for PCBs; and to Take Steps to Develop Recommendations for Implementing WQ Criteria that Cannot be Achieved within One Permit Cycle (Dec. 2005)
- NO. 2005-9: PMP Resolution (May 2005)
- NO. 2003-27: Resolution on Further Data Collection for Estuary Toxics Management (Dec. 2003)
- NO. 2003-11: Resolution Authorizing and Requesting the DRBC Executive Director to Undertake Certain Actions in Connection with the Development of TMDLs for PCBs in the Delaware Estuary (Mar. 2003)
- Evaluation of PCB TMDL Efforts in the Delaware Estuary (pdf 2.6 MB; presentation given at the 2015 Partnership for the Delaware Estuary Science & Environmental Summit)
- Spatial and Temporal Trends in PCB Concentrations in Fish Tissues in the Mainstem of the Delaware River (pdf 1.5 MB; presentation given at the 2015 Partnership for the Delaware Estuary Science & Environmental Summit)
- Identification and Assessment of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in Stormwater in the Delaware Estuary (pdf 304 KB; February 2014)
- Revised PCB Water Quality Criterion for Zones 2-6 and Enhanced Implementation for the Stage 2 PCB TMDLs for the Delaware Estuary (pdf 281 KB; presentation given at the 12/4/13 DRBC Meeting)
- Basis and Background Document: Revised Human Health Water Quality Criteria for Total PCBs for the Protection of Human Health from Carcinogenic Effects (pdf 121 KB; July 2013)
- Draft Implementation Strategy for Polychlorinated Biphenyls for Zones 2-6 of the Delaware Estuary (pdf 251 KB; July 2013)
- Response-to-Comment Document for Revised PCB Criterion Rulemaking (pdf 17 MB; December 2013)
- Presentations from the 2013 NJWEA Conference Watershed Management Session - PCB Remediation Efforts (May 2013)
- Implementing PCB TMDLs: Status Update on the PMP Process (pdf 2.7 MB; presentation by DRBC staff at the 5/10/12 DRBC Meeting)
- Delaware Toxics Reduction Program (DelTRiP)
- Metal Bank Superfund Site:
- October 20, 2005 Letter from DRBC General Counsel to U.S. Department of Justice Commenting on Proposed Consent Decree (pdf 50 KB)
- October 21, 2005 Letter from DRBC General Counsel to U.S. Department of Justice Requesting Public Hearing (pdf 22 KB)
- October 21, 2005 Letter from N.J. Department of Environmental Protection to U.S. Department of Justice Commenting on Proposed Consent Decree and Requesting Public Hearing (pdf 329 KB)
- November 30, 2004 Response Letter from EPA Region III to DRBC (pdf 730 KB)
- Link to EPA Region III Metal Bank Information Web Page
- View EPA Flyer Announcing December 7, 2005 Public Meeting (pdf 508 KB)
- New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP)'s Technological Feasibility Report for Proposed Water Quality Criteria for New Jersey (pdf 359 KB; 2005)
- Bioaccumulation of PCBs in the Delaware River Estuary (pdf 2.3 MB; 2004)
- Sedimentological and Geophysical Survey of the Upper Delaware Estuary (pdf 6.2 MB; this October 2003 final report was submitted by the University of Delaware to the DRBC) Download graphic summary of report created by DRBC staff (pdf 2 MB)
- Reducing PCB Loadings to the Delaware Estuary: A Staged Approach to Establishing TMDLs (April 2003)
- Op-Ed: The Delaware River is Not What it Used to Be - That's the Good News! (March 2000)
- Study of the Loadings of Polychlorinated Biphenyls from Tributaries and Point Sources Discharging to the Tidal Delaware River (pdf 4.2 MB; 1998)