Editorial: PCB Disposal Decision too Important to Rush

Posted Dec. 03, 2003

A petition to change the method of getting rid of unwanted PCBs may seem like another delay in an environmental problem that has lasted too long.

However, where matters of long-term consequences are the issue, no delay can be too much where the public health is concerned. That’s why a petition by the town of Vinland and seven other local governments should be given all the time it requires. The petition seeks to burn polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, instead of burying them in a landfill.

A person doesn’t have to be an environmental expert to understand the dangers of PCBs. The Fox River north of Oshkosh became inundated with PCBs on the river bottom as the by-product of the carbonless copy paper industry. Their release into the river ended in 1971 but their known long-term threats to animal and human health will stay with us.

What the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources should do with the petition is review it carefully. This isn’t a situation where there is an incoming company that needs environmental rules reviewed quickly. There isn’t an impending reason other than to determine what will be the future of these PCB by-products.

We won’t say it often, but this experience may be one of the few times where another delay in the government process is a good thing. A delay now will hurt less than the improper disposal of PCBs later, whatever decision that may be.