CORONADO, CALIF. - Critical issues of styrene emission and environmental compliance have the attention of firms using unsaturated polyester resins in fabricating composite parts, most often in open molds. The interest broadened the attendance base for the 1996 Western Section conference of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Coronado, bringing fabricators to a May 10 program on manufacturing standards, engineering controls and equipment and material options.
The impact of the Occupational Safety and Health Administra-tion's Feb. 14 acceptance of a voluntary industry plan on styrene emissions was discussed. Fabri-cators must adjust operations as needed to limit workplace exposure to styrene to 50 parts per million by July 1997.
The SPI and its Styrene Infor-mation Research Center, the Composites Fabricators Associa-tion, the International Cast Polymer Association and the National Marine Manufacturers Association created the plan, avoiding a protracted and expensive rule-making process but risking a potential downside.
``If industry snubs OSHA,'' said Daniel Boyd, a Queenstown, Md., industry consultant, ``the agency most likely would put styrene back in the [permissible-exposure-level] process, lower to 20 ppm and bring up the issue of [styrene as a possible] carcinogen.''
Extensive SIRC research indicates styrene is not a carcinogen, and the trade groups started workshops to educate fabricators and others how to control emissions.
Boyd said he has ``been bombarded by three other industries that want to do the same thing with OSHA.'' In January, the agency identified 20 chemicals and agents to be subjected to the rule-making process to set lower workplace exposure levels. The list omitted styrene.
The industry has discredited and survived the International Agency for Research on Cancer's 1987 labeling of styrene as a possible carcinogen.
``If you fight back with sound science and determination, you can win,'' said Betsy Shirley, executive director of Washington-based SIRC.
She said SIRC ``saved industry over $1 billion in unnecessary
capital and operating costs'' and ``helped trigger better risk assessment and regulatory reform throughout government.'' She said firms have learned to develop better internal technical and business communications and to be aware that ``regulations are often based on faulty assumptions or careless research.''
Shirley said SIRC presses the issue in state, federal and international venues and plans on a downsized basis to continue the effort beyond 2000. The cost for research so far: $10 million.
Operator training is the key factor in emission control, said Robert McCullough, general manager of the plastics and resin division of Binks Manufacturing Co. in Franklin Park, Ill. Other major factors include qualified process equipment and appropriate maintenance.
McCullough said pressure-fed resin rollers and flow coaters will be studied in the next phase of CFA's testing program on styrene emissions. Virtually no emissions or oversprays come from the rollers, but they must be cleaned and changed frequently. Coaters use extremely low pressures and generate no atomization.
Frank Cassis, an Upland, Calif., industry consultant who organized the SPI/West program, suggested use of resins with lower molecular weights as a way to lower emissions. ``They require less styrene for operating viscosity,'' he said.
Use of closed-mold processes to manufacture fiber-reinforced plastics can meet the 1997 limit, according to Kenneth Jacobs, executive vice president of Liquid Control Corp. in North Canton, Ohio.
He described how the processes of resin transfer molding and vacuum infusion can reduce the emission of volatile organic compounds. It is ``not for everyone, but the processes may be a way to meet the limitation,'' he said.
On another front, securing five-year Title V permits to operate can be odious, and any late filing means no 18-month shield to continue operating during state and federal Environmental Protection Agency's application reviews. Missteps can lead directly to jail.
John Schweitzer, Ann Arbor, Mich.-based technical director of SPI's Composites Institute, suggested applicants maximize flexibility and provide generic descriptions of operations, products and raw materials to give themselves ``elbow room'' over the life of the permit.
Applications for Title V permits in Arizona were due in May 1995 and in Nevada and Oregon in late 1996. California air quality management districts are collecting the ``first third'' of applications this year, but delays are expected as California incorporates new federal guidelines into the program, Schweitzer said.