Philadelphia Funds PCB Reduction Plan

Jan. 2, 2003
The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) received a check for $19,000 from the Philadelphia Water Department to help develop a plan to reduce the amount of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) entering the tidal Delaware River.

The goal is to meet the river's water quality standards and eliminate the need for fish consumption advisories that have been in place for over a decade.

"The $19,000 was part of a larger $70,000 fine that the city collected against an industry for improperly disposing of its PCBs," said David Katz, deputy water commissioner for Philadelphia. In 1999, the city used part of the fine it collected to fund a seminar for businesses on proper PCB disposal.

"Giving this money to the DRBC was the best use of these funds, as the only way we'll be able to address the PCB problem is through a comprehensive understanding of all the sources of PCBs, and working in partnership with all concerned," Katz added.

Carol R. Collier, the DRBC's executive director, said the water department's contribution "exemplifies the type of partnership between stakeholders and regulators that is essential if we are to achieve our shared goal of improving water quality in the Delaware Estuary."

The Delaware River Basin Commission is a federal/interstate agency responsible for managing the water resources within the 13,539 square-mile watershed. Its members are the governors of the four basin states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware) and a federal representative appointed by the president.

The plan to reduce PCB levels will be crafted by a commission-authorized TMDL (total maximum daily loads) Implementation Advisory Committee. The committee will be composed of approximately 20 representatives from industry, municipalities, environmental organizations, fish and wildlife interests, regulators and others.

TMDLs set the quantity of a pollutant that can enter a water body daily without violating the water quality standards or triggering fish consumption advisories. Once a TMDL number is determined, decisions will have to be made on how that new, lower loading benchmark can be met.

It will require an analysis of inputs from tributary streams feeding the Delaware River, storm water runoff, point sources (end-of-pipe discharges), air deposition and riverbed sediments, followed by the development of PCB reduction plans.

The existing water quality regulations, which took effect in 1997, set uniform standards for PCBs and other toxic pollutants for the 85-mile reach of the river from the head of tide at Trenton, N.J., downstream to the Delaware Bay, including tidal portions of tributary streams. The standards are designed to address the effects of acute and chronic toxicity to aquatic life, and the potential for harmful effects on humans through ingestion of untreated river water and the consumption of resident fish and shellfish.

The highest concentration of PCBs occurs in a 14-mile, heavily urbanized portion of the river between the old Philadelphia Navy Yard upstream to the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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