Steps are currently under way in Ghana to strengthen and build the capacities of government officials and stakeholders outside of government to address Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) identification, manage existing sources of PCBs and ensure their elimination in the country.
PCBs are synthetic chemicals that were manufactured for use in various industrial and commercial applications and widely used as dielectric and coolant fluids, in transformers, capacitors and electric motors.
PCBs were also used as oil in electrical and hydraulic equipment, plasticizers in paints, plastics and rubber products due to their non-flammability, chemical stability, high boiling point and electrical insulation properties.
The chemical when released into the environment do not easily break apart. Instead, they persist for many years, widely distributed through the environment through the soil, water and air. In addition, bio accumulates in the fatty tissues in living organisms and found at higher concentration levels in the food chain.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had classified PCBs as probable human carcinogens. Long-term effects of PCB exposure include harm to the nervous and reproductive system, immune system suppression, hormone disruption, skin and eye irritation.
Studies of PCBs in humans had found increased rates of melanomas, liver cancer, gall bladder cancer, biliary tract cancer, gastrointestinal tract cancer, brain cancer and breast cancer. PCBs are known to cause a variety of cancers in rats, mice, and other study animals.
The 6.5 million dollar project which begun in 2009 was expected to end in 2014, aimed at protecting human health and improve environmental quality by avoiding exposure to PCB contaminated oil particularly from transformers and capacitors in the country.
The project was jointly supported by the EPA, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).
At a day's high level sensitisation workshop in Accra yesterday, a Deputy Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Musheibu Mohammed-Alfa said though there were no regulations pertaining to PCBs in the country, inventories on power transformers, import, use and distribution of PCB containing -equipment of the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and the Volta River Authority (VRA) nationwide revealed that 12,000 transformers had PCB substances in them.
He noted that Ghana ratified the Stockholm Convention in 2003 aimed at protecting the environment from toxic substances and would ensure discontinue use of intentionally produced PCBs in the country.
"The Convention engages and binds the international community to take actions that prevent PCBs from being used or released but allows for countries to work towards elimination of PCB equipment by the year 2025," he disclosed.
He said the development of legislation on PCBs was expected to check the gap and also arrangement put in place to ensure that all transformers and dielectric fluids imported into the country went through clearance check by the EPA and the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority.
He added that efforts had been made to build the capacity of relevant institutions on the use PCB-analyzers (L-2000) and made the equipment available to Customs, ECG and VRA to enable undertake the required controls.
The Executive Chairman of EPA, Mr Daniel Amlalo, noted the project implementation strategy was such that the country moved from the current unsustainable management of PCB-containing equipment to sound management and disposal practices.
He said the aim of the nationwide inventory of transformers and capacitors was to determine their PCB status to ensure that the country completely eliminated PCBs from our environment.
He was delighted about the draft policy for control and management of PCBs developed under the project.
Mr Amlalo noted that an awareness creation programme had been developed to educate the general public on the adverse effects of PCBs on human health and the environment generally.
For his part, Director, Chemicals Control of EPA Mr John Pwamang said, the project had been able to develop an environmental, health and safety guidelines, secured a temporary storage site in Tema to store PCBs containing equipment and also developed PCB management plan.
Source: ISD (Constance Adomaa Takyi)