National PCB Inventory in Progress

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Dr Mupoti Sikabongo In line with SADC Environmental Protocols, the Stockholm, and Basel Conventions, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism is currently coordinating a project on the development of a National PCB Inventory for Namibia. PCB stands for Polychlorinated biphenyls. These are deadly chemicals with a concentration of chlorinated constituents. They are found mainly in electrical transformers and capacitors. They are very effective, keeping the efficiency of a transformer up to 40 years and more in operation. However, they are critically harmful to human health and the environment and are being phased out. As mentioned above, the Environmental Programme of the United Nations has only two sister pollution conventions which deal with the problem of persistent organic pollutants like PCB. They are the Basel and the Stockholm conventions. These conventions came out of the intensity of the environmental revolution which began in the 1950s. Because the conventions are strictly environmental, they are globally focal-pointed and coordinated by the world’s ministries of environment. In other words, if a persistent organic pollutant like benzine is found to pollute the environment, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) will address its concerns directly to the Ministry of Environment. This is mainly because the Ministry of Environment is the primary coordinate and sister government organ to the United Nations. Indeed, the Stockholm Convention was introduced by global environmental agencies mainly to address the pollution problem of stubborn chemicals in the environment. Respectively, the Basel Convention was introduced to deal with the cross-border movement of a wide range of hazardous waste chemicals, like PCBs and others. Namibia is a party to both the Basel and the Stockholm conventions. Recently, Dr. Mupoti Sikabongo, coordinator of the National PCB Project in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, collected oil samples from transformers to determine whether Namibia was free from PCB or not. Like all other SADC countries, it was found that Namibia may not be totally free from PCB operating transformers. In fact, Dr Sikabongo applied the internationally recognized PCB testkits to analyse the presence of PCB chemicals in the oil medium. The test-results showed that 8 of the 33 samples analysed were PCB positive. This result accounted for about 24.2 percent of the total sample. Dr Sikabongo stated that the next step is to send the samples to another advanced PCB laboratory for further screening. This is a normal procedure in science. You need to verify your findings by conducting further tests with other devices to rule out the impact of room temperature, for example, on your experiment. The good news is that all 8 transformers which tested positive are no longer in use. Moreover, Dr Sikabongo states that even if a transformer is pregnant with PCB, that does not mean that such a transformer must be removed if it is running well and is not leaking. He says that what is important is to know that the transformer is PCB pregnant to enable us to service it in such a way that its oil is never mixed with other oils which are PCB free. This is the main reason why we need an inventory. So far, a national PCB Committee has been established. The purpose of the National PCB Committee is to plan and foresee all the necessary proceedings associated with the development of a National PCB Inventory for Namibia. It is important to note that SADC countries have earmarked 2010 as the target year for the elimination of PCB within the SADC Region. From this date, trade in transformers and capacitors that are PCB positive will be strictly controlled or even rejected by SADC governments to ensure that no further PCB contaminations are likely to take place in the region. In view of this, Namibia is expected to be free from PCB running equipment by 2010. Furthermore, Dr Sikabongo noted that the manufacture of the test-kits for PCB did not provide sufficient information on how to dispose those kits after use. Some users tend to mix them with domestic waste. Dr Sikabongo agues that this is not good practice for occupational and environmental health. He states that those who have conducted PCB screening should be aware that there is only one non-reactor ampule that has to be applied to the second test-tube to suspend the chemical reaction but which leaves some contents of the first test-tube intact. In view of this, Dr Sikabongo recommends that the disposal of all used PCB test-kits must follow the strict procedure that is applicable to the disposal of hazardous substances. It is only through this way that our people can be assured to benefit from sound occupational safety and environmental health.

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