The United States, together with Canada, Russia, and the Scandinavian countries, is a signatory to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. One of the commitments under the Convention is a ban on the production and new use of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Under the auspices of the Convention, an intergovernmental Arctic Council was established to address sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic region. Six key projects were initiated, including one on a phase-out of PCB use and the management of PCB-contaminated waste in Russia. An assessment determined that there were approximately 500,000 capacitors containing 10,000 tons of PCBs in storage at several hundred facilities. It was further determined that plasma arc technology was especially suited to the destruction of these capacitors. From 1995-2002, ESTCP supported a project, under the management of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), with the objective of establishing a plasma arc hazardous waste treatment system (PAHWTS) at a military installation. The PAHWTS was designed, constructed and successfully tested at the Retech Services Inc. facility in California. NRL is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate transporting the PAHWTS to Russia and establishing a demonstration facility for destruction of the PCB-containing capacitors and other hazardous wastes.

Technology Description

Although the PAHWTS was not initially designed for the treatment of PCBs, an analysis determined that it would be capable of destroying them while meeting emissions requirements either in the U.S. or in Russia. A mass balance calculation determined that the system could treat 350-500 kilograms per hour of the capacitors, of which 35 percent is comprised of PCBs with the rest consisting principally of metal and paper. Requirements for modifying the system to accommodate electrical power in Russia and to allow liquid PCBs to drain from the shredder to the liquid holding tank have been identified. The liquid PCBs are then destroyed in the PAHWTS, while rendering the metallic components harmless. A preliminary cost analysis based on labor and materials rates in Russia determined that the cost to destroy each ton of capacitors would range from US$750-$1000. An analysis of various sites in Russia will be conducted to identify the one most compatible for installation of the PAHWTS. Permit and regulatory requirements will be identified as will the most efficient and cost-effective method of transporting the system to Russia.


There is concern that toxic materials, such as PCBs, in storage or waste facilities in Russia could leach into the groundwater and eventually contaminate the Arctic region, causing a significant impact on the ecology of that area. PCB-containing capacitors are a particularly problematic item for disposal since it is difficult to cut them open to drain the liquid PCBs. Plasma arc technology offers the potential to introduce the capacitors whole into the system, destroying the PCBs and rendering the other materials inert. The process would be less costly than other destruction methods and thus would save money while helping to eliminate a significant environmental problem.