Non PCB Ballast Information


In 1979, the use of PCBs in small capacitors was banned by TSCA for all fluorescent light ballasts. DEHP, a dielectric fluid, became the closest substitute for the manufactures, and was used in small capacitors found in fluorescent light fixtures from 1980-1991. DEHP, (Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) is a clear, odorless, synthetic chemical in the phthalate family known as dioctyl phthalate “DOP”. This dielectric fluid found in most non-PCB ballast capacitors is nearly 80-100% pure.

The number of DEHP or non-PCB ballasts being used today varies greatly in the lighting industry, however, it is estimated that approximately 25% of the currently installed ballasts contain DEHP. This amounts to about one half of all non-PCB ballasts or as many as 250 million of the existing installed 1 billion ballasts. This devastating figure accounts for the United States alone!

Of course, the major concern of DEHP containing ballasts is the health issue. DEHP has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the US EPA and as a hazardous and toxic substance under various environmental regulations. laboratory tests performed by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry observes that long term exposure to DEHP can cause cancer, the liver being a prime target area. Although further testing is being conducted at this time, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency for Research of Cancer, concur with these current findings.

DEHP is regulated extensively by the US EPA, OSHA, and the FDA. Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, it is listed as a hazardous waste when discarded as a commercial chemical product. The Superfund Law however, lists DEHP as a hazardous substance, which means that if found in the environment, in significant quantities, EPA will enforce clean up of the contaminated site. Additionally, if more than a certain Reportable Quantity (RQ) is released into the environment (approximately 100 lbs.), the person(s) responsible fro this potential threat is required to notify the National Response Center and be responsible for the clean up.

The definition of Superfund Liability is written clearly. The person(s) may be financially responsible, in part or in whole, for all costs of clean up and decontamination, punitive damages and any penalties. The concept of “strict, joint and several” liability under Superfund makes the potential liability even more severe. For example, strict liability means that the government, in a law suit against a Potentially Responsible Party (PRP), need not prove any intent or negligence. They only need to prove that the PRP was involved, without regard to fault. EPA tries to divide the financial responsibility proportional to the volume of waste disposed of. However, if the EPA can only identify one deep pocket, or if the EPA cannot divide up the responsibility, one party could be responsible for the entire cost of the cleanup.

PRP’s for Superfund clean up actions include generators of the waste, transporters, owners, operators, or other parties who may have played a significant role, especially parties who have the ability to pay. If a building owner retrofitted the building’s lighting system during the same period as a clean up was deemed necessary and the building owner does not have a certificate of Destruction indicating proper disposal, this evidence is enough to hold the building owner financially liable under Superfund.

Superfund can pierce the corporate veil and assert claims against individuals, corporate directors, officers, and managers in cases involving willful misconduct or negligence, any violation of regulations, or knowing endangerment to human life. Under state laws, financial liability may also include separate lawsuits for personal injury and property damage, which is not included in the Superfund laws. The federal Superfund law also allows citizens to sue PRP’s for personal injury, commonly known as “toxic torts”.

To avoid liability and for safety’s sake, the disposal of DEHP ballasts should be handled with the same precautions as the disposal of PCB containing ballasts. Landfills should not be a consideration. DEHP does not evaporate easily, and dissolves readily in materials such as gasoline, paint removers, and oils, instead of water. These carriers are frequently found in landfills and may easily become an avenue for greater pollution. DEHP is the 13th most frequently detected organic compound recorded on the CERCLA Superfund database. The average cost per clean-up has been 30 to 40 million dollars.

THE BOTTOM LINE. Since DEHP is classified by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen and is listed under the Superfund laws as a hazardous substance, the above critique should be taken with the utmost most seriousness by all generators. The proper disposal of DEHP containing ballasts is by recycling the metals, incineration of the capacitor, and the receipt of a Certificate of Destruction. The future of the environment and the human health appears to ultimately dictate this action.