Com­ing to terms with in­vis­i­ble killer

Fail­ure to dis­pose of poly­chlo­ri­nated biphenyl trans­former oil in the cor­rect man­ner can have a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment, and put hu­man health at risk from can­cer, im­mune sys­tem dis­or­ders and liver dis­ease. In light of this, Vieät Nam is taki

Outlook - - COVER STORY - By Buøi Quyønh Hoa

Se­ri­ous health prob­lems in poul­try in Bel­gium in Jan­uary, 1999, were caused by the dis­charge of about 25 litres of poly­chlo­ri­nated biphenyl (PCB) trans­former oil.

The oil, which was poured into a waste-col­lec­tion unit for re­cy­cling into an­i­mal feed, killed thou­sands of chick­ens worth a to­tal of about US$1 bil­lion. How­ever, in­di­rect costs are es­ti­mated to be three times higher - and yet, the proper dis­posal of the 25 litres of trans­former oil would have cost only about $1,000.

This was one of the most re­cent cases of PCB con­tam­i­na­tion world­wide. Other well­known in­ci­dents were the Yusho and the Yu-Cheng poi­son­ings of ed­i­ble rice oils in Ja­pan in 1968, and in Tai­wan in 1979 repec­tively. In both cases, PCBs from hy­draulic oils leaked into ed­i­ble oils, which were sold and con­sumed by thou­sands of peo­ple. Se­vere toxic ef­fects were de­tected in both in­stances.

PCBs are one of the 12 classes of Per­sis­tent Or­ganic Pol­lu­tants (POPs) which, be­cause of their po­ten­tial for dam­age to hu­man health and the en­vi­ron­ment, were tar­geted for elim­i­na­tion by the Stockholm Con­ven­tion on POPs in 2001.

Ow­ing to their ex­cel­lent prop­er­ties, longevity, non-flamma­bil­ity, and re­sis­tance to ther­mal and chem­i­cal degra­da­tion, PCBs have been used as di­elec­tric (in­su­lat­ing) fluid for trans­form­ers and ca­pac­i­tors, heat con­duc­tive liq­uid in hy­draulic and heat trans­former sys­tems, as plas­ti­cis­ers in ar­ti­fi­cial rub­ber, and as an in­gre­di­ent in paint, ink, car­bon­less copy pa­per, ad­he­sives, lubri­cants, sealants and caulk­ing ma­te­ri­als.

PCBs have also been used as pes­ti­cide ex­ten­ders, fire re­tar­dants in fab­rics, car­pets, polyurethane foam - and as lubri­cants in mi­cro­scope oils, brake lin­ings and cut­ting oils. But the big down­side is that chemists de­scribe PCBs as in­vis­i­ble killers.

Iden­ti­fied ac­tual or po­ten­tial ill ef­fects as­so­ci­ated with PCBs in­clude can­cer, re­pro­duc­tive and devel­op­ment tox­i­c­ity, im­paired im­mune func­tion, and dam­age to the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem and liver. Re­al­is­ing this, many coun­tries stopped PCB pro­duc­tion in the late 1970s and built an in­ter­na­tional le­gal doc­u­ment to pro­tect hu­mans and the en­vi­ron­ment from toxic chem­i­cals.

On May 22, 2001, the Stockholm Con­ven­tion on POPs was adopted by 152 coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries. It be­came effective on May 19, 2004. Its over­all ob­jec­tive is to pro­tect hu­man health and the en­vi­ron­ment from 12 classes of POPs. This has now been ex­tended to 23 classes.

POPs are sub­stances that pos­sess toxic char­ac­ter­is­tics, are per­sis­tent, ac­cu­mu­late in the fatty tis­sues of most liv­ing or­gan­isms, and are likely to cause sig­nif­i­cant ad­verse hu­man health and en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects. As of Fe­bru­ary last year, 179 coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries, in­clud­ing Vieät Nam, have rat­i­fied the Stockholm Con­ven­tion. The con­ven­tion re­quires iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and safe man­age­ment of POP stock­piles and en­vi­ron­men­tal safe dis­posal of waste con­tain­ing, con­sist­ing of, or con­tam­i­nated with POPs.

The con­ven­tion calls for the elim­i­na­tion of PCBs used as in­dus­trial chem­i­cals. Any re­main­ing PCB oils, equip­ment and waste have to be dealt with by 2028.

PCBs in Vieät Nam

Vieät Nam has adopted two mea­sures to get rid of POPs and PCBs. The first was in 2006 when it adopted a Na­tional Im­ple­men­ta­tion Plan to re­duce PCBs in line with the Stockholm agree­ment. Vieät Nam was the 14th na­tion to sign up.

The sec­ond mea­sure was the man­age­ment of PCBs and other POPs as a pri­or­ity un­der the Na­tional Strat­egy for En­vi­ron­ment Pro­tec­tion in­tro­duced shortly af­ter­wards.

Vieät Nam's Na­tional Im­ple­men­ta­tion Plan calls for the re­duc­tion of PCBs into the en­vi­ron­ment, the elim­i­na­tion of PCBs in equip­ment and fa­cil­i­ties by 2020 and the safe dis­posal of PCBs by 2028. The plan was ap­proved by the Prime Min­is­ter in De­ci­sion l84/2006/QD-TTg on Au­gust 10, 2006.

A pro­posal on the safe man­age­ment and then, later, the elim­i­na­tion of PCBs in the elec­tric power in­dus­try and in in­dus­trial prod­ucts is one of the main pro­pos­als in the plan.

The Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­ment (MONRE) ap­proved the Vieät Nam PCB man­age­ment project in May, 2009. The five-year plan is be­ing car­ried out by its Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Depart­ment, the Min­istry of In­dus­try and Trade's (MOIT) In­dus­trial Safety Tech­niques and En­vi­ron­ment Agency, and Vieät Nam Elec­tric­ity (EVN).

The project, fi­nanced by the Global En­vi­ron­ment Fa­cil­ity (GEF) has been car­ried out since March 2010 in 63 prov­inces/cities na­tion­wide. It has a to­tal bud­get of $17.5 mil­lion, of which Of­fi­cial Devel­op­ment Aid (ODA) cov­ers $7 mil­lion.

Speak­ing at a work­shop on Vieät Nam PCB man­age­ment in Haï Long City, Traàn Theá Loaõn, deputy chief of the Vieät Nam En­vi­ron­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion's Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Depart­ment said: "The project has made a strong con­tri­bu­tion to sup­port­ing the min­istry in safely man­ag­ing PCBs by de­vel­op­ing a com­pre­hen­sive le­gal frame­work. It has also strength­ened the ca­pac­ity of of­fi­cials at cen­tral and lo­cal lev­els on PCBs man­age­ment and haz­ardous waste man­age­ment as well."

Ac­cord­ing to project man­ager Phaïm Maïnh Hoaøi, Vieät Nam has never pro­duced PCBs but once im­ported them in in­dus­trial oils, in­clud­ing hy­draulic oils, air tur­bine oil, lu­bri­cat­ing oil and plas­tic ad­di­tives. Most com­monly, PCBs have been used as di­elec­tric fluid in elec­tric trans­form­ers.

"Be­fore 1985, Vieät Nam an­nu­ally im­ported about 27,000 to 30,000 met­ric tonnes of PCBs oil in elec­tri­cal equip­ment. Sig­nif­i­cant amount of PCBs still ex­ist in the coun­try, pri­mar­ily in oils used in elec­tri­cal trans­form­ers and ca­pac­i­tors," Hoaøi said. (EVN owns about 70 per cent of all elec­tri­cal gen­er­at­ing equip­ment.)

Pol­lu­tion con­trol, es­pe­cially prevent­ing toxic con­tam­i­na­tion, has be­come a pri­or­ity in the 21st cen­tury. It is the price we must all pay if we want to sur­vive in a highly in­dus­tri­alised world.

The Vieät Nam Elec­tric­ity has con­trib­uted to the na­tion’s ef­forts to pro­tect hu­man health and the en­vi­ron­ment from toxic trans­former oil.

Of­fi­cial Nguyeãn Maïnh Cöôøng from Quaûng Ninh Elec­tric­ity Com­pany ex­plains how hard it is to safely man­age their PCB con­tam­i­nated trans­form­ers.

Vic­tims of Yusho PCBs con­tam­i­na­tion of ed­i­ble rice oils in Ja­pan in 1968.

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