Missoula Technology and Development Center Facilities Toolbox: Hazardous Substances in Buildings
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Is there a problem with hydraulic fluid?

There may be, but it's not likely.

Hydraulic fluid containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) was mostly used in high-temperature applications such as die-casting machines. There's a small possibility that hydraulic fluids for elevators or automotive lifts may be contaminated by PCBs, if the fluids haven't been completely flushed and replaced since about 1984, and there's no manufacturer-applied label that states that the fluids are PCB-free.

Monsanto's Pydraul brand accounted for nearly all hydraulic fluids with PCBs in the United States, but they also produced fluids that didn't contain PCBs that had the Pydraul label. If you have a hydraulic system containing pre-1984 fluids of this brand, you should probably check for PCBs. Fluid tests costing about $50 are available through many testing labs.

If hydraulic fluid has more than 0.5% non-dissolved PCB material or more than 50 parts per million total concentration of PCBs, it is considered a hazardous material regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). PCB wastes must be disposed of in a TSCA-compliant incinerator, TSCA/RCRA-compliant chemical waste landfill, or by an EPA-approved alternative method. Arrangements may be made with companies that provide EPA-approved PCB storage for shipment of fluid containing PCBs to an EPA-approved chemical waste processing site.

The TSCA allows machines that used hydraulic fluids with PCBs to be disposed of in a municipal solid waste landfill if they have been drained of all free-flowing liquids. Hydraulic machines that contained PCBs at a concentration greater than 1,000 parts per million must be flushed with a solvent before disposal. The drained liquid and solvents must be disposed of like other PCB wastes.

Health Issues: PCBs can enter the environment through use and disposal. PCBs stay in the body, so effects can get continually worse every time a person is exposed to PCBs. Severe concentrated exposure to PCBs can result in skin lesions, liver damage, or other problems. Lower level exposures are more common, and typically occur through eating contaminated fish, milk, or other foods. Over time, lower exposures may result in thyroid, immune system, and reproductive system problems and cancer. Infants born to mothers that have consumed PCBs may have problems with motor skills, hearing, and brain function.


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