Despite 2004 global ban, PBC oil has recently been found in 15 transformers used by the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) and Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) while 3000 more are awaiting tests.
The study, conducted under the project spearheaded by the LEC and environmental department in the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture, revealed last week that among these 15 transformers, one is used by the LNDC while LEC has 14 —seven decommissioned and another seven still in-use.
MNN Center for Investigative Journalism has learnt that all tests were performed in South Africa, Pretoria but Lesotho has not yet decided how the PBC oil containing transformers will be disposed as “such facilities are expensive and are currently only available in Europe”.
“We will first have to perform cost-effective analysis and then find a safe way of the toxic waste incineration under high heat temperatures,” said LEC Environment Officer Mosili Letšela.
Because of the PBC oil’s toxic and pollutant nature, it poses a threat to the health of living organisms, primarily humans. It is said to cause serious health problems and diseases that include cancer.
According to Letšela, PBCs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) were formerly used as transformer oil for their dialectic strength and cooling effect.
The PBC oil manufacturing was globally banned in 2001 with the signing of the Stockholm Convention, a global treaty aimed at protecting human health by controlling and eliminating of Persistent Organic Pollutants, which includes PBC oil.
Lesotho is party to this treaty as Letšela said it signed and ratified the convention on January 23, 2000 in Sweden, Stockholm.
Two decades down the line, the giant state-owned enterprises are found to still be using this toxic oil.
Speaking to MNN, Matšeliso Moremoholo, the LEC Risk Manager, attributed the 20-year procrastination to lack of funds, adding they only began taking inventory last year after receipt of funds.
She said safe disposal and testing of the transformers is very expensive and usually done in Europe.
Initially, Moremoholo said they thought they didn’t have PCB oil in their transformers because by the time it was banned, Lesotho was already buying new and much safer transformers that contained mineral oils.
However, when they checked the date of manufacturing under the current analysis, they discovered 3000 transformer suspects which are now awaiting testing.
Only 179 samples were collected and dispatched for testing in South Africa, out of which 15 samples came back positive.
“Project is aimed to assist Lesotho in the disposal of the identified equipment and oils, in order to eliminate the health risks posed by PCBs,” said the Managing Director of LEC, Liteboho Ramoqopo at told the media last week.
Ramoqopo also added that owners of all positive transformers are obligated to replace their contaminated equipment by the year 2025 as mandated by the Stockholm Convention.