PCBs in electrical installations and appliances

Until the mid-1980s, around 4'000 to 5'000 tonnes of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were used in Switzerland in transformers, power capacitors and small capacitors, where they served as non-inflammable insulating fluid with good thermal conductivity.

Transformers and capacitors containing PCBs and weighing a maximum of over 1 kg had to be removed from installations and properly disposed of by mid-1998. While transformers containing dangerous substances have in the meantime almost entirely been disposed of or have been equipped with PCB-free insulating oils, there are still some power capacitors containing PCBs in use, primarily in the low voltage range.

These are located for example in reactive power compensation units in buildings with high inductive electricity consumption, such as buildings in which powerful electric motors or a large number of fluorescent light bulbs are used. Reactive power compensation units are normally found in the basement of buildings and are commonly integrated into the electrical distribution system in such a way that they are not recognisable to the layperson.

Identification, removal and disposal of power capacitors containing PCBs
With its amendment dated 10 December 2010 to the Ordinance on Chemical Risk Reduction, the Federal Council transferred responsibility for verifying whether capacitors containing PCBs are present in low voltage installations to the supervisory bodies cited in the Ordinance on Low-Voltage Installations (NIV, SR 734.27). The new regulation entered into effect on 1 February 2011. In the past, this task was the responsibility of the cantons.

Chemsuisse (Cantonal Services for Chemical Products), the Swiss Association for Electricity Inspection Companies (VSEK), the Swiss Association for the Inspection of Electrical Installations (VSEI) and the FOEN have joined forces to produce instruments to assist specialists in the electricity sector with the task of identifying, removing and safely disposing of capacitors containing PCBs. Here the main instrument is a catalogue of capacitors containing specific details relating to their PCB status. The documentation is also intended to provide the owners of electrical installations with helpful information, and can be downloaded from the Chemsuisse web site (available in German, French and Italian only):

Small capacitors containing PCBs are mainly found in the ballast equipment of fluorescent light bulbs produced before 1983 and in long life household appliances such as washing machines. Ballast equipment is particularly problematic in that it is often not recognised as containing pollutants due to its compact metal form, and as a result it is often simply disposed of as waste metal. It is then broken up with other scrap in the shredder, allowing the PCBs to enter the environment.

Investigations of organic residues from shredder units (RESH) in 2001 revealed a relatively high level of PCBs. This suggests that far too many toxic elements are still finding their way into our waste metal.

Further information

Precedenti aiuti all'esecuzione (la base legale non è più in vigore ma, di fatto, questi aiuti all'esecuzione sono ancora validi):

PCB und andere halogenierte aromatische Stoffe in kontaminierten Transformatoren und Kondensatorölen

Cover PCB und andere halogenierte aromatische Stoffe in kontaminierten Transformatoren und Kondensatorölen. Analytische Bestimmung und Int erpretation der Messresultate.1997. 4 S.

This publication does not exist in English. It is available in other languages. 1997

Further information

Last modification 06.09.2023

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