A public hearing on a proposal to establish limits on the amount of polychorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the Delaware River is set for Thursday, Oct. 16 in Philadelphia.
It will be held from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Independence Visitor Center, One North Independence Mall West (6th and Market Streets). Written comments also may be submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on or before October 21.
The EPA has classified PCBs as a probable human carcinogen. Although their production was banned in the United States in the late 1970s, existing uses were not affected and substantial amounts of the substance remain in the environment. PCBs are used in thousands of industrial and commercial applications, including electrical transformers and in paint, plastic, and rubber products.
The subject of the hearing is a set of proposed TMDLs, or total maximum daily loads.
A TMDL is essentially a "pollution budget." It sets the maximum amount of a specific pollutant, in this case PCBs, that can be introduced into a river or stream without violating applicable water quality standards. It then allocates that total amount among all sources of the pollutant in the watershed, which must then reduce individual pollutant loads to those allocated levels.
The TMDLs address both point source (end-of-pipe) discharges into the river and non-point sources, such as stormwater runoff, Superfund sites, and air deposition of PCBs.
"The Delaware River is the cleanest it's been in decades," noted Carol R. Collier, executive director of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). "But the presence of PCBs remains a problem. States bordering the river have issued fish consumption advisories because of elevated levels of PCBs in fish tissue. The goal is to reduce the level of this toxic substance to a point where the standards are met and the advisories no longer are necessary."
The DRBC, working in concert with Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, the EPA, and other partners, developed the technical basis for four TMDLs to address four 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.
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.
After review and consideration of public comments, the EPA will establish the TMDLs in final form. It will then forward them to the environmental regulatory agencies in the three states which will incorporate the TMDLs into their water quality management plans. The deadline for the EPA to adopt the TMDLs is December 15, 2003, a date set in a lawsuit against the federal government.
"The reduction in PCB levels will not be achieved overnight," said Collier. "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."