PCB Ballasts, Fluorescent Tubes, and Hazardous Waste

Click to ExpandPCB Ballasts, Fluorescent Tubes, and Hazardous Waste

Fluorescent tubes have been popular for decades, particularly in commercial and industrial settings where energy efficiency and brightness are crucial.   Currently, these lighting fixtures are being replaced with more energy efficient LED bulbs and fixtures.  However, due to their widespread use in the past, they are still found in many facilities today.  Some of the ballasts that regulate the current and voltage in these fixtures, and fluorescent tubes themselves are made with hazardous materials that can pose serious health and environmental risks if improperly handled.

Potential Hazards Associated with Fluorescent Tubes

Older magnetic ballasts that power fluorescent tubes may contain hazardous materials known as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). PCBs are toxic substances linked to various health and environmental issues, including cancer, congenital disabilities, and wildlife damage. Thus, when PCB ballasts and fluorescent tubes are not properly handled, stored, and disposed of, they can pose significant risks, including the following:

Mercury Exposure

If a fluorescent tube breaks or is improperly disposed of, mercury can be released into the environment in vapor or liquid form. Exposure to mercury vapor can cause acute and chronic health effects, including respiratory problems, skin irritation, nausea, headaches, and neurological damage. In addition, it can contaminate waterways and soil, accumulate in the food chain, and harm wildlife.

PCB Contamination

Older fluorescent tube ballasts may contain PCBs, which can leak if the ballast is damaged or overheated, contaminating anything it comes in contact with.  PCBs can be persistent in the environment, meaning that they do not break down easily and can accumulate in soil, water, and wildlife.

Fire Hazard

Older magnetic ballasts can generate significant heat when they fail.  This can ignite nearby combustible materials — such as wood, paper or fabric — leading to a fire.  Additionally, a burned out fluorescent tube can overheat and start a fire.

Release of Hazardous Gases

When fluorescent tubes are improperly handled and disposed of, they can release hazardous gases into the environment. These gases can include mercury vapor, phosphine, and arsine used in tube manufacturing. Phosphine and arsine are highly toxic and can cause serious health issues, including respiratory problems, nausea, headaches, and even death in high concentrations.

Importance of Proper Handling and Disposal of Fluorescent Tubes and PCB Ballasts

The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) provides EPA with authority to enforce the regulations, and to fine or criminally prosecute those in violation of the act.  Click here to see the criminal provisions of the TSCA.

EPA Fines GSA for Improper Disposal of Fluorescent Light Bulbs

It is worth noting that not all components of a lighting fixture require special handling and disposal. PCB ballasts that are not leaking, and contain less than certain thresholds of PCBs may sometimes be disposed of as municipal waste.  The EPA’s ballast chart for TSCA Storage Disposal Requirements for lighting ballasts can be found here.

Other Characteristically Hazardous Waste

These are wastes that are hazardous because they exhibit a certain physical property or characteristic. There are four characteristics that can make a waste hazardous: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and toxicity.  Some that are commonly found in business and industry are:

  • mercury switches and thermostats
  • batteries
  • solvent based liquids, solids, sludge
  • Lab Packs
  • Lead in shooting ranges
  • Old chemicals and pesticides
  • Bird and Animal droppings

Choose Waco for Specialty Construction Services and Solutions

Waco provides a safe and efficient solution to properly removing and disposing of old PCB-containing ballasts, fluorescent tubes, and other hazardous waste – all in accordance with TSCA regulations.

Trust us to handle your hazardous materials with care and responsibility! Contact us or request a quote today for a free proposal on how we can help you safely remove your hazardous waste.

Waco is a privately owned and diversified contracting company offering clients an extensive range of mechanical and specialty construction services. Our team comprises professionals with years of experience and a passion for delivering innovative solutions to even the most complex challenges. Moreover, we pride ourselves on our ability to tackle projects of any size and scope.

Other Areas we serve: Virginia: Fairfax, Annadale, Alexandria, Arlington, Springfield, Falls Church, McLean, Vienna, Reston, Tyson’s Corner, Woodbridge, Manassas, Leesburg, Lorton, Occoquan, Bethesda.

Maryland: Waldorf, St. Charles, LaPlata, Leonardtown, Lexington Park, Patuxent River, Solomons (Island), Port Republic, Huntingtown, Calvert Cliffs, Accokeek, Annapolis, Indian Head, Easton, Cambridge, Trappe, Bridgeville, Salisbury, Pocomoke City.