Hey there, ecoSPEARS readers! We hope each of you have a healthy, clean, and green 2019 so far! It’s been an exciting year for us so far and we wanted to share some of the good news on some of the big moves we’ve made so far. Before we begin our deep dive into this blog post, we want to invite those of you who haven’t yet to read our “WTFAQ is ‘Green Remediation’?” post from April to give you a more solid foundation and background understanding of what we’ll be covering this week.
And for those of you have already read our last post: why not give it a quick skim to refresh your memory? It will help keep the issues we’ll be discussing this time around top-of-mind, and a few extra engagement clicks would be a big help to our social media team.
All done? Great! Let’s get into the thick of it…
As you (hopefully) just read, or reread, at the end of our “Green Remediation” blog post, our team is incredibly excited to announce we have officially joined the United Nations’ PCB Elimination Network or PEN. PEN’s goal and underlying mission is exactly what it sounds like: eliminate worldwide PCB contamination by 2028. Aspirational? Absolutely. Tricky? You bet. Obtainable? Yes, but…we have a long way to go. That’s why we’re here talking about PEN today. Why are you asking all these rhetorical questions?
If you scroll down the webpage outlying what PEN is and why they do what they do, you’ll find that their mission aligns with 10 of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be met by 2030.
10 of the 17 SDGs that aligns with PEN’s goals In order to reach the goal of better health and well-being, we in turn need to meet the goals of clean water and clean food, which only come from a clean environment. As we stand today, these are daunting goals to be met in the next ten years. Especially when we stop and consider two major problems: 1) 83% of total PCBs ever manufactured and dumped into our environments remain there today, and, 2) Almost every person on Earth will contain some amount of PCB contamination in their body
“So what do we do?” You may be asking. “How do we solve this problem? CAN we solve this problem?” The short answer is yes, we can absolutely solve it. The longer answer is: yes, we can absolutely solve this problem by 2028 if every global stakeholder with any interest in any of the 17 SDGs does everything in their power to set measures in place to help ensure that these goals are met. PCB elimination is a massive worldwide problem and it will take a massive worldwide implementation to solve. This isn’t a quick fix, and it’s one reason why ecoSPEARS is so pleased to be a newly accepted member of PEN. We can’t Thanos-snap our way out of this one, folks.
PEN states in a simplified method that there are four main points along the route of reaching the goal of global PCB elimination: 1) Recognize once more the risks PCBs post to the environment and human health; 2) Strengthen the analyses of their PCB situation; 3) Prepare for the elimination of PCBs, taking into account maintenance, handling, transportation, and interim storage; and, 4) Finalize the elimination process to achieve the 2025 and 2028 goals
Sounds simple enough, but let’s break this route down line-by-line and see what PEN and its partners need to do in order to reach a conclusive resolution to these, starting with recognizing risks of PCBs.
While we won’t redeliver a lecture on the harmful effects and risks PCB exposure has on living things, we will summarize what we know in a few key points: • PCBs are naturally persistent: they do not break down on their own in the environment and will instead stay there, indefinitely, until they are ingested by a living organism • Once ingested, PCBs will remain in the organism until it is consumed, where it will be ingested by another larger organism, ad infinitum until it reaches the top of the food chain via bioaccumulation • Top predators (i.e., Seals, Orcas, Whales) with high body fat have been studied and shown to have PCB concentrations in their tissue well beyond what is considered the threshold of toxicity • Some of these animals are still hunted and consumed by indigenous tribes and peoples, including Inuit • Mothers with PCBs in their bodies have been studies and shown to transfer high levels of PCBs to their nursing infants via breast milk • PCBs a known carcinogen, meaning they cause cancer in humans along with an array of other adverse health effects • PCBs are now the most widespread toxic contaminant on Earth affecting essentially every industrialized nation in the world The first step is to create what PEN calls “an ideal inventory” composing of a global count of PCBs, where and how they are stored, the status of these PCBs, total mass volumes, and in what concentration levels.
What does an “ideal inventory” look like according to PEN? The next step is strengthening the analysis of the PCB situation. Doing so will require worldwide awareness and stakeholder participation of undertaking the aforementioned inventory of global PCB contamination, as well as reconducted sampling and testing to adequately approach an ideal inventory. Taking a look at a map of worldwide PCB contamination and storage, the daunting capacity of this task becomes readily apparent.
Recorded worldwide levels of PCB contamination, including PCBs in storage The third step in the process is to prepare for global PCB elimination by taking into account worldwide measures of maintenance, handling, transportation, and storage of PCBs wherever they may be. To create an “ideal” inventory, existing inventories must be updated using industry-wide systematic manners. This process will then, in turn, need to differentiate between PCBs at various concentration levels, as PCBs found in media at concentrations over 50 ppm requires additional labeling and handling procedures. Likewise, transporting PCBs within the boundaries of a nation will require an update to existing transport manifests, and transporting PCBs internationally to prepare for elimination will require an updated notification of transboundary movement per the Basel Convention.
We know that 83% of PCBs ever manufactured remain in the environment, but roughly one-fifth of PCBs that persist today remain in what is called “open applications” (i.e., paints, building materials, machinery) that still stand. These open applications account for at least half of human exposure to PCBs. Cataloging, categorizing, and preparing methodologies to address PCBs in open application will have to fall in line with similar systematic updates that must occur to prepare for global PCB elimination by 2028.
Once collected, PCBs en route for destruction are then placed in interim storage. This is to prevent additional exposure to PCB contamination to wildlife, communities, and the environment. Following updates to handling and transportation, systematic updates will be required to properly isolate PCB contamination routed for elimination, likely including the method of elimination required. Updated emergency response plans will also be a likely necessity, as even PCBs placed into storage can pose a risk of re-exposure to the environment in the case that it spills or leaks following unprecedented events, such as strong storms or floods.
Flooding from storms can cause stored contamination to leak, as in the case with the San Jacinto Waste Pits in Texas post-Hurricane Harvey The final step in the process is finalizing the elimination process. Perhaps misleadingly, this step is less focused on the actual elimination of PCBs themselves and more so on the abetting by the previous three steps to prevent continued exposure of PCBs to humans, wildlife, and the environment. This can be accomplished by building a global mechanism of stakeholders committed to raising awareness of PCB contamination, who are able to define and facilitate strategies and activities to provide pinpoint assistance in creating the “ideal” inventory, and continually encourage global coordination between these stakeholders.
Just as PEN itself is a branch of and partner to the UN, companies, agencies, and organizations such as ourselves here at ecoSPEARS must align their own visions, missions, and capabilities with those of PEN and other stakeholders for global PCB elimination to happen. PCBs are a man-made carcinogen and they do not discriminate in who or what they affect. It is up to us to ensure the 17 SDGs, the goals of PEN and the goals of other global stakeholders leading the charge to achieve these goals are met.
At ecoSPEARS, our vision is simple: we imagine a world where every human being has access to clean water. As of 2019, only 59% of all domestic wastewater is safely treated. In 2016, unsafe drinking water resulted in roughly 870,000 recorded deaths worldwide. Current estimates show that if correlated efforts are not made within the next decade, 20% of large marine ecosystems will face continued deterioration due to pollution and waste run-off, known as eutrophication.
The key takeaway with this post is partnerships matter. You’ve likely heard plenty of people in your life say, “great minds think alike” and it is 100% true. Great minds do think alike, but they also act alike and align their actions to achieve a mutually beneficial goal. PCB contamination is a global issue which requires global assessment and global action to solve. This is why ecoSPEARS is committed to our vision and our strategic partnerships as we have with agencies like PEN. If you, your organization, or if you know of someone or an organization that could similarly align its strengths to achieve the vision of a world free of global PCB contamination, then please be sure to fill out a PEN Applicant form: here. As always, thanks for reading and we’ll see you next time!