DEEP: PCB's & Submersible Well Pumps

PCBs and Submersible Well Pumps

The Well Issue
Who to Call
What To Do - Info for the Well Driller, Pump Installer, Plumber or Water Treatment Professional
Storage Requirements
Disposal Requirements


The Well Issue

Electric pumps and motors as well as various household appliances (contact DEEP for the document entitled Guide For Removal, Storage and Disposal of PCB Small Capacitors) need capacitors in order to operate. This includes the submersible well pumps that are found in some residential drinking wells. Prior to the 1978 ban on PCB manufacture, almost all capacitors were filled with PCBs. After the ban, capacitors were required to be marked at the time of manufacture with the label "No PCBs". Any small capacitor not bearing that marking, pursuant to the federal regulation, MUST be assumed to contain PCBs.

Submersible pumps of the two-wire design which were manufactured before the 1978 ban, likely contain a PCB capacitor. There are several makes and models which are fairly well documented, but any pump of that era is suspect. Well pumps can fail for a variety of reasons including age (check the manufacturer recommended life expectancy), corrosion, and lightning strikes. If the PCB capacitor leaks PCBs, the oil coolant inside of the pump motor becomes contaminated. If the motor is breached or the motor seal fails, the PCB-contaminated coolant oil can leak out into the well. This can happen slowly, over time or can happen all at once. The oil will then rise to the top of the well casing and float on the surface of the water. In many cases, the pump will continue to operate for a time and PCB-tainted oil and water will come through the household plumbing.

If you suspect that your well pump has released oil into your well, discontinue use immediately. Contact the agencies on the attached list and your well service professional. The well must be opened to check for signs of oil and to inspect the pump for leakage. In addition, samples must be obtained for PCB analysis. If the well is contaminated, it and the plumbing must be cleaned prior to reuse.

Due to the health risks associated with PCBs, it is important to make certain all PCB contamination is removed from your system. There are a variety of routes for exposure. These include dishes washed with water, showering, clothing washed with water, cooking with or drinking the water, or running hot water so as to create vapors. To be safe, the conservative approach is to assume any oily residue or odor emanating from faucets or toilets be considered PCB contamination until it can be determined otherwise.

Who To Contact

Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection:

  • PCB Program (860) 424-3368
  • Potable Water Program (860) 424-3705

Your Well Service Professional:

  • Well Driller
  • Pump Installer
  • Plumber
  • Water Treatment Professional

Your Local Health Department:

  • If you do not know how to contact your local health department, consult your city or town or the Connecticut Department of Public Health for contact information.  

What To Do - Info for the Well Driller, Pump Installer, Plumber or Water Treatment Professional

The procedure for cleaning a well and plumbing contaminated with PCB oil is essentially the same as for "clean" oil with the exception of certain requirements concerning storage and disposal explained later in this document. The professional servicing the well should follow the procedure outlined here:

Step 1 Remove the failed pump from the well. Place it into a DOT-approved 55-gallon drum for disposal. Allow water within the well to remain still for a least 24 hours.

Step 2 Remove all free floating oil from the surface of the water in the well using a bailer and/or oil absorbent pad or boom. Place it into the drum with the pump.

Step 3 Make certain that there is no floating oil layer in any plumbing fixtures such as water heater or toilet. If there is, remove with oil absorbent pad.

Step 4 Put approximately 8 ounces of dishwashing liquid per 100 gallons of well volume into the well. (Assume 1.5 gallons/ft. of water for a 6" diameter will and 53 gallons/ft. for a 36" diameter well.) Detergent should be pre-mixed in a little hot water to be sure that it creates the maximum sudsing.

Step 5 Recirculate the well water using a garden or other hose connected to a hose bib while running the water back into the well. Allow it to agitate for 1 hour. In the case of a low yielding well or during a period of drought, be sure to take precautions not to run the well dry. The length of time for agitation may need to be reduced in some cases. Place the hose into the drum for disposal when finished.

Step 6 Wash down the sides of the well with a clean or new garden hose, preferably equipped with a pressure nozzle.

Step 7 If household plumbing has not been contaminated, skip step 7 and proceed to step 8. If household plumbing is also contaminated, run the soapy well water through the plumbing system for 3-4 hours, until it is no longer soapy. This can be accomplished by running all the faucets (not so long that the well runs dry) and periodically flushing the toilets. Run both hot and cold faucets so that the hot water heater is cleaned as well. If after step 7 water still runs soapy, turn off faucets and proceed to step 8.

Step 8 Pump soapy water directly from the well to a municipal sewer, or if not available, run a hose so that the water may be discharged directly to the septic tank.

Step 9 Obtain a water sample directly from the well then properly seal the well (i.e. chlorination, etc.). Also, a sample should be collected from a household tap.

Step 10 Run empty loads in both the dishwasher and washing machine using only the normal soap for each.

The homeowner should submit the water samples to a laboratory for PCB analysis to confirm the success of the cleaning and the safety of their water. They must also contact a permitted transporter to arrange for proper disposal of the drum of PCB waste (see storage requirements listed below).

Storage Requirements

The federal PCB regulation requires specific storage procedures to be followed for PCB waste materials.

  • Such items must be placed into a DOT-approved 55-gallon drum.
  • The drum must be marked with the appropriate PCB label.
  • In addition, the date that the materials were first collected in the drum must be written on the drum.
  • The drum can only be stored up to 30-days prior to disposal.
  • It should be kept in a secure area to prevent vandalism or handling by children. This will help to prevent possible exposure to people or the environment.

Disposal Requirements

Both EPA and the State of Connecticut require that PCB waste be properly disposed. There are restrictions on what facilities may accept PCB waste. Arrangements for proper disposal should be made through a permitted PCB waste transporter. Contact the Waste Engineering and Enforcement Division for a current list of permitted PCB waste transporters.  Remember, you can only store this waste for 30 days before it must be removed for disposal.

For further information please contact the PCB Program at (860) 424-3368, e-mail the PCB Coordinator or write to:

Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
Bureau of Materials Management and Compliance Assurance
PCB Program
79 Elm Street
Hartford, CT 06106-5127

PCB Information

Content Last Updated November 10, 2011