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Outlook 1991: clean air rules may affect processors.

Outlook 1991: Clean Air Rules May Affect Processors

Last month (p. 107), the first part of our regulatory preview of the year ahead focused on what is clearly the most pressing area for plastics - recycling and other solid-waste issues. Possible effects of other new environmental regulations on clean air and water are less clear, particularly for plastics processors, though rules on styrene monomer emissions could be a threat if EPA follows Congress' recommendations. Foam processors will also want to keep an eye on continuing initiatives to tighten the net on CFCs.

In the area of worker-safety regulation, there is again no clear trend in sight that has specific implications for plastics. But, as in the environmental sphere, SPI sources counsel greater alertness to changing rules, even on the part of small businesses.


Although it was signed at the end of 1990, the reauthorized Federal Clean Air Act's true impact on plastics will not be known until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) writes the mandated regulations and businesses begin to consider compliance methods, says Lewis R. Freeman, Jr., v.p. of government affairs for the Society of the Plastics Industry, in Washington, D.C. Under the "Air Toxics" provisions of the Act, hazardous pollutants that were not regulated before will now be regulated by EPA. In many cases, the most advanced technology to regulate emissions will be required. EPA has two years to prioritize the 189 chemicals on the list based on the greatest risk posed to public health. "It is unclear which chemicals will be regulated right away, and how severely they will be regulated," says Freeman.

However, SPI's Composites Institute has already warned that Congress included in the Act a provision requiring that plants emitting more than 10,000 lb/yr of styrene monomer must install Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT), which could cost up to $250,000 for each plant. While most FRP processors might doubt that they emit that much styrene per year, SPI provided two illustrative examples:

* If a "closed molder," under the "best possible" assumptions, emits styrene amounting to 2% of its resin usage, it would hit the 10,000-lb limit if it used 500,000 lb/yr of resin.

* If an "open molder," under the "worst possible" assumptions for spray-up, emits 16% of its resin usage as styrene, it would hit the max. limit if it used only five drums/week of resin.

Although it is still up to EPA to come out with its own version of a regulation, SPI has called Congress' recommendation "a serious threat to our industry."

Whatever EPA's new rules end up to be, Freeman says affected companies will likely be subject to more burdensome paperwork requirements and new permit fees. Each pollutant source will be subject to emissions limitations standards and will be required to apply for a permit. "Failure to comply with any aspect of the permit program could result in stiff financial assessments and possible incarceration," warns SPI.

New federal rules are not the only ones to worry about. There are already air toxics bills in better than half the states, SPI notes. Due to EPA's perceived slowness, states will probably act to regulate specific toxics themselves. Some of the chemicals plastic processors will be concerned with include methylene chloride, styrene, and all solvents.


The Clean Air Act sets a phaseout schedule for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The schedule states the maximum allowable percentage of 1986 production for each year: 1991 - 85%; 1992 - 80%; 1993 - 75%; 1994 - 65%; 1995 - 50%; 1996 - 40%; 1997, 1998, 1999 - 15%; and 2000 - 0.

Most processors probably will phase out CFCs before the deadline. Industry associations report producers of PS foam food packaging have already dropped CFCs and that flexible urethane foam producers had cut use by 45% before the end of 1989. Meanwhile, the European Community's Environmental Council just agreed to push up their deadline for banning CFCs to 1997, and Canada has decided to go along. As part of its accelerated phaseout, Canada will ban use of CFCs in flexible foams by 1993 and in rigid urethane insulation foams by '95.

But what about hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)? These are considered "transitional" compounds, and their production will be frozen in 2015 and a complete phase-out mandated by 2030 or sooner, depending on significant findings. SPI sources question whether producers are willing to allocate necessary resources to HCFC production if they will be phased out so soon. EPA, by the way, recently released an interim report on analysis of human health and environmental effects of HCFC replacements for CFC-11 and 12. The report indicates that these substitutes can be used safely; however, these are interim reports, and toxicity studies are continuing.

Even with the passage of the new Clean Air Act, there are still some state bills pending on (CFCs), although the numbers are dwindling, said Joseph M. Pattock, director of state government affairs at SPI. In 1989, there were over 100 state restrictive proposals. In 1990 that number dropped to 75, and in 1991 it is expected they will drop to less than that, said Pattock. SPI points out that there is very limited federal preemption of state laws regarding CFC plastic foam products; thus states and localities may well issue strict rules of their own.


Proposals on EPA's '91 agenda that would also affect plastics include these:

* The Agency will decide whether to propose rules for brominated flame retardants and isocyanates. These two are part of a list of chemicals for priority testing under amendments to the Toxic Substance Control Act (ToSCA), issued by the government's Interagency Testing Committee.

* EPA is considering limiting the manufacture, import, processing, distribution and disposal of certain acrylate and methacrylate chemicals, also pursuant to ToSCA amendments. Currently, they are determining risk and possible controls.

* Regulations for plastic ring carriers will be developed under amendment to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). EPA is first considering whether degradable rings pose more risk to marine life than non-degradable rings. Sources at the agency are quick to point out that nearly all rings manufactured in the U.S. are already photodegradable.
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Author:Block, Debbie Galante
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Feb 1, 1991
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