Big Three Automakers Reduce PCBs Entering the Great Lakes

By Cat Lazaroff

CHICAGO, Illinois, January 27, 2000 (ENS) - The three major Midwest auto companies - DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors - have all agreed to virtually eliminate the use of PCBs in their electrical equipment. Their promise caps more than two decades of work by the automakers and others to reduce the amounts of the toxic chemicals spilling into the Great Lakes.


DaimlerChrysler's headquarters in Auburn, Michigan (Photo courtesy DaimlerChrysler)
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are a group of toxic chemicals, once used in industry as coolants and lubricants. EPA banned the manufacture of PCB's in 1979, because of evidence they accumulate in the environment and present health hazards for humans, fish and wildlife.

The EPA has linked PCBs to cancer in animals, but the link between low level exposure to the toxin and cancer in humans is still uncertain.

In April 1997, the U.S.-Canada Binational Toxics Strategy for the Virtual Elimination of Persistent Toxic Substances in the Great Lakes Basin was signed by EPA Administrator Carol Browner and then Canadian Minister of Environment Sergio Marchi. The strategy challenged industry, government and the public to explore innovative, voluntary ways to reduce certain persistent toxic chemicals, including PCBs, from the Great Lakes Basin.


Industries around the Great Lakes contributed to past contamination of the waters with PCBs (Photo courtesy Great Lakes United)
As part of the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenged companies to voluntarily reduce PCB's in electrical equipment by 90 percent by 2006. The companies were also asked to properly manage and dispose of PCBs, to prevent accidental releases into the Great Lakes Basin.

DaimlerChrysler (formerly called Chrysler) started a $43 million program to eliminate all PCB electrical equipment from its facilities in 1989. The proactive program addressed more than 500 PCB transformers and 10,000 PCB capacitors. The company is now reporting a 100 percent reduction in PCB transformers and a 99 percent reduction in PCB capacitors, and is focused on eliminating the few capacitors that remain in service.

James Lyijynen, vice president of stationary environmental affairs and energy for DaimlerChrysler, applauded EPA for its plan to develop partnerships with industry through a voluntary PCB elimination program. "Our success was possible because we recognized that there is both a significant business and environmental value to eliminating PCB's from our facilities," said Lyijynen.

In 1996, General Motors began its formal program to eliminate all high level PCB transformers in the U.S. and Canada by 2000. The company reports spending $28 million so far to remove and properly dispose of some 298 transformers - containing more than three million pounds of PCBs. GM will meet its goal this year by replacing its remaining 400 transformers.


Indiana steel producers, like Bethlehem Steel in Porter, Indiana, have voluntarily reduced PCB use by by 63 percent (Photo courtesy Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore)
"In addition to minimizing environmental risk, our voluntary transformer replacement program has resulted in the added business benefit of reducing energy consumption and costs," said Dennis Minano, vice president of environment and energy for GM.

Ford Motor Co. created a PCB phasedown program in 1995 to eliminate all PCB containing equipment globally by 2010. It projects that 95 percent of all PCB equipment in their facilities worldwide will be removed and properly disposed of by 2006.

In addition to the auto industry, EPA has worked with other industries, including steel producers and utilities, to reduce PCBs in the Great Lakes Basin. Among the achievements of those partnerships:

The five major steel producers in Northwest Indiana have voluntarily reduced the PCBs in their facilities by 63 percent.

power plant

Many power plants around the Great Lakes have removed 90 to 100 percent of the PCBs in their facilities (Photo by Richard Frear, courtesy National Park Service)
Twelve of the major utilities in the Great Lakes Basin have already removed 90 percent of the PCBs they had in service in 1978, and are continuing to remove them. Several utilities have already removed 100 percent of high level PCB's.

"Based on significant voluntary reductions by industry and vigilant regulation at storage and disposal facilities, we expect to reach our goal of a 90 percent reduction in PCB-containing electrical equipment before the 2006 deadline," said Francis Lyons, administrator of EPA Region 5, which covers the Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

PCB registrations from 1998 show there are 18,714 PCB containing transformers now in use in the U.S., with 5,569 of them in EPA Region 5.

"Progress has been made in reducing PCBs from the environment," said Lyons. "However, they still exist at levels that adversely affect fish and other wildlife in the Great Lakes Basin. They are still responsible for fish consumption advisories, are one of the dominant causes of toxicity in wildlife, and are still a human health concern."