October 8, 2012

PCBs in Used Oil

Although the manufacture of PCBs was banned in 1979 by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), PCB-containing used oil still shows up today—33 years later. PCBs are ubiquitous and are found frequently, especially in oil drained from electrical equipment (transformers, capacitors, etc.) and old hydraulic systems. The following discussion is a summary of EPA information on the RCRA/TSCA implications of PCBs in used oil, presented by Dave Bartus of Region 10 (bartus.dave@epa.gov).

What regulations apply to used oil contaminated with PCBs?

Used oil generators need to consider both the RCRA requirements of 40 CFR Part 279 and the TSCA requirements of 40 CFR Part 761. The RCRA/TSCA requirements for used oil depend on the concentration of PCBs when the used oil is removed from service, as summarized in the table below. It is clear from §279.10(i) that if the used oil contains ≥50 ppm PCBs (or if it contains <50 ppm PCBs due to dilution of used oil that contained ≥50 ppm PCBs when removed from service), then the used oil is subject to the TSCA regulations in Part 761 and not to the used oil regulations in Part 279. This section in the regs implies that all entities (including generators) that manage used oil are going to have to know by testing or knowledge if the used oil contains greater than or less than 50 ppm PCBs.

[RCRA/TSCA implications of Managing Used Oil Containing PCBs]


PCB concentration

<2 ppm

≥2 and <50 ppm

≥50 ppm

General RCRA/TSCA applicability to used oil

Subject to Part 279 requirements only1

Subject to Part 279 requirements1, also subject to TSCA requirements for marketers and burners when burned for energy recovery2.

Regulated for disposal under TSCA Part 761 requirements only3

Management options

  • Recycle per Part 279
  • Dispose per Parts 260-270 if hazardous
  • Dispose per Parts 257-258 if nonhazardous
  • Recycle per Part 279
  • Market to 1) qualified incinerators4, 2) off-specification used oil marketers, or 3) off-specification used oil burners5

1Section 279.10(i) notes that used oil containing PCBs at a concentration <50 ppm due to dilution of used oil containing PCBs at ≥50 ppm is subject to the requirements of 40 CFR Part 761 instead of the requirements of 40 CFR Part 279.

2The TSCA regs note that used oil to be burned for energy recovery is presumed to contain quantifiable levels (≥2 ppm) of PCBs. The used oil marketer or burner will need to determine by testing or “other information” whether the used oil contains ≥2 ppm of PCBs. “Other information” consists of personal knowledge of the source and composition of the used oil, or a certification that the used oil contains <2 ppm PCBs from the person generating the used oil. [§761.20(e)(2)]

3TSCA prohibits the burning of any used oil containing ≥50 ppm PCBs for energy recovery. [68 FR 44660] Requirements in this column also apply to used oil at current concentrations <50 ppm if any part of the used oil contained PCBs at a concentration ≥50 ppm when removed from service. See §761.1(b)(5) and Footnote 1 above.

4Qualified incinerators include: 1) TSCA incinerators approved under §761.70, 2) high-efficiency TSCA oilers that comply with the criteria at §761.71(a)(1) and for which the operator has provided notice to EPA per §761.71(a)(2), 3) RCRA hazardous waste incinerators, and 4) industrial furnaces and boilers that are identified at §§260.10 and 279.61(a)(1) and (2).

5Identified in §279.61(a)(1) and (2).

How do I know if PCBs are in my used oil?

Neither RCRA nor TSCA requires generators to test for PCBs—instead knowledge is widely used. For example, if used oil is drained from service vehicles or rotating equipment wherein new lubricating oil was recently introduced, knowledge would indicate that there is no chance of PCBs being in the used oil. On the other hand, if the used oil is drained from any electrical equipment or old equipment in which the source of lubricating oil, hydraulic fluid, heat-transfer fluid, mineral or refrigeration oil, etc. is unknown, then the presence of PCBs should be suspected and analyzed for. The only conclusive means of demonstrating used oil does not contain quantifiable levels of PCBs is direct testing. Direct testing of used oil for PCBs may be a cost-effective insurance policy.

If I want to test my used oil for PCB concentration, what test method should I use?

The only defensible analytical method for demonstrating the concentration of PCBs for purposes of disposal or burning for energy recovery is EPA Method 8082 in SW–846. There are no field test kits that EPA has found acceptable for this purpose.

If I have PCB-containing used oil, can it be mixed with other used oil?

One thing to emphasize is that the PCB concentration at which used oil is regulated is that at which PCBs are “removed from service.” So, if liquids containing differing PCB levels are mixed together, the resultant mixture is regulated in accordance with the requirements applicable to the liquid component with the greatest PCB concentration. [Revisions to the PCB Q and A Manual, January 2009]

How should generators protect themselves from TSCA liability due to high PCB concentration in used oil accumulation tanks?

First, EPA recommends that generators record the quantity of each contribution to an accumulation tank. Unless each individual contribution to an accumulation tank is individually tested (typically impracticable), the agency recommends that “retain samples” of each contribution be kept. If sampling of the full accumulation tank indicates any detectible PCBs, then individual retain samples can be analyzed to verify whether or not any contribution to the accumulation tank contained PCBs at ≥50 ppm. The disposal requirements for PCBs are always determined by the concentration at which PCBs are taken out of service. This is typically different than the concentration in an accumulation tank from which a collection firm picks up used oil from a generator.

If readers have questions on specific situations, they should contact their regional PCB coordinators.


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This document addresses issues of a general nature related to the federal RCRA regulations. Persons evaluating specific circumstances dealing with the RCRA regulations should review state and local laws and regulations, which may be more stringent than federal requirements. In addition, the assistance of a qualified professional should be enlisted to address any site-specific circumstances.