PCBs: a salty solution

Now and then there comes an encouraging reminder that answers -- sometimes simple ones -- can be found to the often complex and distressing pollution problems that arise as byproducts of a modern industrial society. One such reminder was the announcement this week that a chemist for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company has come up with what he says is a safe and inexpensive way to dispose of PCBs, the toxic chemical compound widely used in industrial processes until an act of Congress a few years ago banned its manufacture in the US. The Environmental Protection Agency is looking into the proposed solution.

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are still used in electrical wiring and in certain other products where no other chemical substitutes are available. As a result, today there are large amounts of used oils and worn-out equipment across the US containing PCBs. It was Goodyear's search for some way to get rid of its own PCBs that led to the discovery of the new process.

According to the company, the process uses a sodium compound to strip chlorine from the PCBs, which renders the substance environmentally safe -- and leaves a residue of sodium chloride, ordinary table salt. If it passes muster in the EPA, Goodyear's pennies-per-pound approach will prove again that solutions to perplexing technological problems sometimes lie right under our noses.

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