PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in the New River in southwestern Virginia are the subject of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process begun in early April 2016.
The federal Clean Water Act requires that a TMDL study be done whenever the level of a pollutant in a water body regularly exceeds a state water-quality standard and, consequently, the water body is identified as “impaired.” A TMDL study identifies sources of an impairment, allocates the contribution of each source to the overall impairment, and identifies reductions needed for the water body to fall within water-quality standards for the particular contaminant. In Virginia, state law also requires development of TMDL implementation plan following the TMDL study.
An April 5, 2016, public meeting was held in Radford by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Virginia Tech’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) to describe the known history of PCB contamination in the river and the TMDL study that aims to identify the current sources and loads of PCBs in the New. About 145 miles of the New, from Interstate 77 to the West Virginia line (along with several tributaries), have been under a Virginia Department of Health (VDH) fish-consumption advisory since 2004 (since 2001 for about 75 miles), when PCBs were found in fish-tissue samples.
According to the DEQ (“New River Watershed Study,” April 2016), PCBs “are chemicals that were used in electrical transformers and other equipment until the late 1970s and can remain in the environment for decades. … Sources of PCBs include, but are not limited to, point-source dischargers including municipal stormwater discharges, stormwater runoff from areas of known contamination, atmospheric deposition, and existing contamination in river sediments.”
According to the VDH (Frequently Asked Questions about Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Mercury Fish Consumption Advisories,” October 2013), “[t]he …EPA) has determined long-term exposure to PCBs may increase the risk of cancer. Individuals exposed to large amounts of PCBs may develop skin conditions such as acne or rashes. In animal studies, PCBs have been shown to damage the liver, stomach, thyroid gland, and cause changes in the immune system, cause behavioral alterations, and impair reproduction.”
Following a public comment period through May 3, 2016, the Virginia Tech BSE Department and a DEQ technical advisory committee will proceed with development of the New River PCB study.
Research could aid fight against PCBs in New River, Roanoke Times, 4/5/16.
Long hunt for source of PCBs in New River is to end this year, Roanoke Times, 3/27/16.
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Resources for PCB TMDLs,” online at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Water/WaterQualityInformationTMDLs/TMDL/PCBTMDLs.aspx.
Virginia Department of Health, “Fish Consumption Advisories/New River Basin,” online at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/DEE/PublicHealthToxicology/Advisories/NewRiver.htm; and “Frequently Asked Questions about Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Mercury Fish Consumption Advisories” (October 2013), online (as PDF) at http://188.8.131.52/Epidemiology/dee/PublicHealthToxicology/Advisories/Fish%20Consumption%20Advisory%20Fact%20Sheet%2010%2018%203013.pdf.