Site Mitigation & Restoration Program

We protect and maintain California’s land and places
by setting strict standards for land restoration and cleanup

Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) Evaluation Quick Reference Guide

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are mixtures of 200-plus individual chlorinated compounds (known as congeners). PCBs were used in many applications like coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment because they don’t burn easily and are good insulators. The manufacture of PCBs ended in the U.S. in the late 1970s because they can cause harmful effects to human health and the environment. PCBs can be found in sources such as fluorescent light ballasts and electrical devices with PCB capacitors, hydraulic oils, and building materials. PCBs are toxic, highly persistent in the environment, and bioaccumulate. There are no known natural sources of PCBs.

Although the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is a lead regulatory agency for site cleanups in California, engagement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) is required when addressing PCB- contaminated sites. Since Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) PCB regulations are not delegated, U.S. EPA is the regulatory lead for the cleanup of PCBs under the TSCA PCB cleanup requirements in 40 CFR 761. For more details, see Section A(4)(e), PCB FAST (PCB Facility Approval Streamlining Toolbox.)

If PCBs are detected at levels that may require cleanup:

  1. DTSC will notify U.S. EPA of PCB contamination before full characterization/ cleanup plan formulation.
  2. U.S. EPA may require additional PCB characterization and/or information to determine if TSCA applies.
  3. If U.S. EPA determines PCBs are not subject to TSCA, DTSC will remain the lead, and U.S. EPA may be available for technical support.
  4. If subject to TSCA, U.S. EPA will assume the lead only for the cleanup of PCBs, will review reports and other deliverables, and will continue to closely coordinate with DTSC on site-specific PCB matters.
  5. Some contaminants (e.g., chlorobenzene) that U.S. EPA cannot address under TSCA may enhance the mobility of PCBs. In those situations, U.S. EPA will work closely with DTSC in the context of impacts on the cleanup of PCBs.
  6. If an institutional control is needed because PCBs are left in place above the unrestricted land use goals, DTSC will implement a Land Use Covenant in consultation with U.S. EPA; see Section III-B.10, PCB FAST.

U.S. EPA’s PCB Facility Approval Streamlining Toolbox (PCB FAST)

The PCB Facility Approval Streamlining Toolbox (PCB FAST), used for U.S. EPA-lead projects, is designed to help parties interested in cleaning up a PCB-impacted site. PCB FAST focuses on establishing a collaborative working relationship and includes tools to prepare adequate and appropriate cleanup notifications and applications. A discussion on cleanup levels is also included. DTSC recommends the use of PCB FAST along with aforementioned DTSC resources.

Analytical Methodology and Action Levels

DTSC and U.S. EPA require Method 8082 for PCB analysis, and recommend Method 1668 or 680 on select samples to provide a detailed specfication of PCBs in certain situations. U.S. EPA’s regulations require the use of Method 3540C (Soxhlet) or 3550C (Ultrasonic) for extraction of PCBs. U.S. EPA prefers the use of PCB extraction Method 3540C.

U.S. EPA publishes Regional Screening Levels (RSLs) for total PCBs (0.23 and 0.94 mg/kg for residential and commercial/industrial use, respectively) and individual Aroclors and dioxin-like congeners. For detailed information on the application of RSLs refer to the resources list above).

For more information, contact:
(CA Department of Toxic Substances Control)
(U.S. EPA Region 9 PCB Coordinator)


Download a collection of all DTSC Voluntary Agreements Quick Sheets

DTSC’s Voluntary Agreements – Assessment and Cleanup Process: 1) Agreement: a) Standard Voluntary Agreement b) California Land Reuse and Revitalization Act Agreement c) Reimbursement Agreement d) Prospective Purchaser Agreement e) Local Agency Oversight Agreement 2) Scoping Meetings a) During negotiation or shortly after agreement execution b) Establishes strong working relationship between DTSC, the Proponent, and the environmental consultant c) Also may be held prior to submitting any documents to DTSC for review 3) Evaluation a) Preliminary Endangerment Assessment (PEA) b) Supplemental Site Investigation c) Remedial Investigation d) Report of Findings Possible End Point 4) Remedy Selection a) Feasibility Study b) Removal Action Work Plan c) Remedial Action Plan d) Response Plan 5) Implementation a) Removal Action Implementation b) Remedial Design c) Remedial Action Implementation d) Response Plan Implementation 6) Certification & Stewardship a) No Further Action b) Certificate of Completion c) Land Use Restriction d) Operation and Maintenance e) Five-Year Review Possible End Point During Remedy Selection, there is a Public Comment Period and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). During this entire process, Public Participation Activities and Tribal Consulation is included, as needed. Possible End Points: 1) Based on site evaluation, projects may conclude without need for any further action; 2) Based on site evaluation, projects may conclude with the need for a Land Use Covenant, in which case a public notice process will be implemented through a Preliminary Endangerment Assessment, Report of Findings, or equivalent documents; and 3) Cleanups may either be conducted to unrestricted land use levels, or may require long term stewardships.

Download PDF version of this diagram.

This document is intended to be guidance only and it does not supersede or implement laws or regulations. The information in this advisory is intended solely as guidance and as educational reference material and should not be considered enforceable or regulatory in nature.