Guidance

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): registration, disposal, labelling

When you can use PCBs and equipment, products or materials containing them, and how to register, label and dispose of them.

Applies to England

You must follow this guide if you own polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), or any of the following substances that are also collectively known as PCBs:

  • polychlorinated terphenyls
  • monomethyl-dibromo-diphenyl methane
  • monomethyl-dichloro-diphenyl methane
  • monomethyl-tetrachlorodiphenyl methane

You must also follow this guide if you own or operate equipment or material that contains any of these PCBs at a concentration higher than 50 parts per million (0.005%).

Ban on PCBs

PCBs are banned. You must dispose of PCBs, and equipment or material that contains them, as soon as possible unless they are covered by an exception.

Exceptions to the PCB ban

Research or disposal

The ban does not apply to PCBs held:

  • for research and analysis into the properties of PCBs
  • as part of a process to dispose of PCBs (for example at a hazardous waste disposal site) or a process to remove (‘decontaminate’) PCBs from equipment

Transformers

You can continue to hold a transformer until 31 December 2025 if you can reasonably assume two things.

  1. The fluids contain more than 0.005% but no more than 0.05% by weight of PCBs.
  2. There is a total volume of more than 0.05dm3 (0.05 litres) of PCB containing fluid.

After 31 December 2025 you must take them out of use as soon as possible.

However, you can hold a transformer until the end of its useful life if you reasonably assume (and justify if needed) that its fluids either:

  • contain 0.005% by weight, or less, of PCBs
  • contain a total volume of 0.05dm3 or less of PCBs

After this you must decontaminate or dispose of any PCBs as soon as possible.

After you take a transformer out of use you must make sure you decontaminate or dispose of it as explained under the ‘Dispose of PCBs’ section.

Small components of equipment

You can continue to use small pieces of equipment that contain PCBs if both of the following apply:

  • they are ‘relevant equipment’
  • they are components of larger pieces of equipment, which are also ‘relevant equipment’

Relevant equipment

Relevant equipment is either:

  • any equipment (including any capacitor or receptacle with residual stocks) containing PCBs
  • equipment that did contain PCBs but has not been decontaminated

Relevant equipment does not include equipment which contains a total volume of PCBs of more than 0.05dm3.

After you take a transformer out of use you must make sure you decontaminate or dispose of it as explained under the ‘Dispose of PCBs’ section.

Contaminated equipment (CE)

Any equipment that contains more than 5 litres of fluid with a PCB concentration of more than 0.005% by weight is classed as CE.

You must generally assume the following equipment is CE if it was manufactured before 1987 and contains more than 5 litres of fluid:

  • power factor capacitors
  • heat transfer equipment
  • pole-mounted transformers
  • process heating equipment
  • vacuum pumps
  • high temperature hydraulic systems
  • electrical resistors
  • brushings and other high voltage equipment
  • fluorescent light ballasts
  • hospital diagnostic equipment

If you have any documents or other evidence that show the equipment does not contain PCBs you should keep them safe, for example if you have:

  • carried out tests on the equipment and have laboratory reports that show it does not contain PCBs
  • kept the original manufacturers’ manual which shows that the equipment does not contain PCBs – this only applies to sealed items where the oil cannot be changed

If you are not sure whether your equipment contains PCBs, you must assume it does. In exceptional cases, it might be possible to agree a methodology with the Environment Agency to demonstrate it is reasonable to assume equipment is unlikely to contain PCBs.

Combined sets of equipment

You may need to class a set of equipment that all works together, and all contains PCBs, as CE. For example, if each contains less than 5dm3, but together they contain over 5dm3.

This would apply, for example, if you have a piece of equipment that contains multiple capacitors which individually contain less than 5 litres of fluid, but collectively contain more than 5 litres of fluid.

Register CE

You must register any CE that you own with the Environment Agency, including CE that:

  • has a legal use (for example transformers with a PCB concentration below 0.05%)
  • does not have a legal use, but you have not disposed of yet (you must tell the Environment Agency how you plan to dispose of it as soon as possible)

Complete a PCB holdings registration form and return it to the Environment Agency as soon as possible.

You must re-register your equipment every year until you stop holding CE. To do this send a new PCB holdings registration form to the Environment Agency, listing all CE you hold on 31 July each year.

You must pay a fee each year when you submit your PCB holdings registration form.

Holders with contaminated PCB equipment in England must pay the correct fee listed in this table.

Charge band Fee
A Single item £2,600
B 5 or less sites and less than 150 items £2,905
C More than 5 sites and less than 150 items £3,983
D 150 or more items, held at any number of sites £7,785

If you become the owner of CE (for example if you buy a business that operates such equipment), you must register the equipment even if it has been registered before.

Take CE off the register

You can take CE off the PCB register:

  • after you have disposed of it
  • if you sell it, or you sell the business or site it was part of
  • if you have carried out tests that prove it does not contain PCBs
  • if you have decontaminated it, so that the PCB content of the fluid is less than 0.005%
  • if it is reasonable to assume that the CE does not contain PCBs following a methodology you have agreed with the Environment Agency

You can take equipment off the register at any time by completing the ‘de-registering equipment’ section of the PCB holdings registration form and returning it to the Environment Agency.

There’s no charge for deregistering equipment.

Labelling CE and premises

You must attach a label to any CE stating that the equipment is contaminated with PCBs.

You must also attach a sign to the doors of the premises where the equipment is used. It must state that the premises contains equipment contaminated by PCBs.

You must make sure the labels and signs are clearly visible and cannot be easily removed.

For transformers where it is reasonable to assume the fluid has a PCB content of 0.005% by weight or less, or a total volume of 0.05dm3 or less, your label and sign can say, ‘PCBs contaminated less than 0.005% or less than 0.05dm3 ’.

Dispose of PCBs

You must dispose of PCBs and materials that contain PCBs as a persistent organic pollutant and hazardous waste.

That means you can either:

Email pcb-enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk to discuss how to do this.

You must keep records to show that you disposed of the PCBs by one of these 2 methods.

Published 27 March 2015
Last updated 8 August 2022 + show all updates
  1. Updated the transformers and relevant equipment section to make the guidance clearer.

  2. We have updated this guide to a) provide new rules on transformers containing PCBs, b) define ‘relevant equipment’ and what that means for small components of equipment, c) clarified how to deal with sets of equipment, d) added text to when you can take CE off the register and e) added guidance on the labelling you need to provide.

  3. We've changed the last line of the table (charge band D) to: '150 or more items, held at any number of sites'.

  4. Updated with new registration fees for England.

  5. The contact email address has been changed to: pcb-enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk.

  6. First published.