The Smithsonian Institution will ask the federal government for $3.5 million to replace or decontaminate its 57 electrical transformers that are cooled with deadly PCBs, Smithsonian officials said yesterday.
The project, included in the Smithsonian's fiscal 1987 budget submission, is also part of its report to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, due Saturday, on what has been done to correct violations of PCB use, disposal, storage and record-keeping regulations discovered during a July 19 emergency inspection.
The EPA will reinspect Smithsonian PCB transformers on Sept. 4, according to agency officials.
"All noncompliance issues cited by the EPA have been complied with," William G. Wells, assistant director of the Smithsonian's office of plant services, said yesterday. He said about $360,000 is being spent on emergency work on transformers and other electrical equipment.
EPA regulations on PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are primarily designed to protect against fires involving PCBs because of the toxic chemicals, including dioxins, that are formed when PCBs burn. The leaking PCB transformers at the Smithsonian were first discovered during a visit by the Hazardous Materials Unit of the D.C. Fire Department.
Wells said the Smithsonian's report to EPA, which imposed a 30-day compliance deadline, will also show that "every leak was contained within two days" after the inspection and that an outside electrical engineering firm is working to repair all transformer leaks.
Meanwhile, officials of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2463, which represents electrical and other workers at the Smithsonian, said it is asking the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to make a health-hazard evaluation of the institution.
NIOSH, part of the Centers for Disease Control, has no enforcement powers but can make recommendations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the only federal or local government agency that has jurisdiction over the Smithsonian buildings.
Dwight Bowman, president of the AFGE Local 2463, said "It appears that the agency has not lived up to the standards we had originally expected. . . . We are not totally satisfied with the speed with which they are getting things done."
In addition to concerns about workers' and visitors' possible exposure to PCBs, Bowman said the union also wants an independent group to evaluate the Smithsonian's electrical equipment, specifically switch gear and circuit breakers -- designed to protect the transformers -- that have been identified as defective by an electrical consulting firm.
Neil Davis, industrial hygienist for the national AFGE office, said that NIOSH was being called on "to assist the agency in ensuring the employes, the public and the artifacts are well protected."
The $3.5 million budget request will be included in the Smithsonian's restoration and renovations account, according to Tom Peyton, director of facilities services. He said requests for that account are included as part of an overall five-year plan and that a specific timetable for replacing or decontaminating the PCB transformers has not been determined.
"Based on the new EPA regulations, PCB transformers must be accelerated out of the system by 1990, and this is to alert the congressional committees," Peyton said.
Extensive tests will begin today to determine whether the PCB transformers should be replaced with new units or if they can be permanently decontaminated by a process known as retrofilling, according to Michael R. League, director of plant services.
Two PCB transformers in the National Air and Space Museum will undergo the decontamination process, after which continuing tests will be made to see if the levels of PCBs remaining in the units can be kept below EPA standards of 50 parts per million.
At the same time, samples of the fluids in all other PCB transformers will be analyzed in what League likened to a "blood test" that should show the condition of parts in the transformers' sealed chambers. The condition of the transformers will help decide if they can be decontaminated or must be replaced.
League said a detailed plan for replacing or decontaminating the transformers should be ready by the time of congressional budget hearings in the spring.
Substation Testing Co. of Forestville, an electrical engineering and testing firm, found earlier this year that 34 of 51 transformers it inspected were leaking PCBs. Substation also recommended replacement of 35 low-voltage circuit breakers in three museums after 10 failed inspection.
A number of other circuit breakers were cited as defective in a 1984 Substation report, which included what a source familiar with the Smithsonian's electrical system said were 15 pieces of electrical equipment in "critical" need of repairs.
Bids are to be opened today for a contract to repair or replace the defective circuit breakers included in the 1984 and 1985 Substation reports. About $200,000 is available for those repairs, according to Wells.
Substation is now working under an $80,000 contract to repair the leaking transformers. Wells said repairs have been completed on transformers in the Freer Gallery, the Smithsonian Castle and the Arts and Industries Building. Crews are currently working in the Musuem of Natural History.
Wells said completion of all transformer repairs will require at least another month. He said no estimate was available for repair costs thus far, but they seem to be running about as expected.