WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency is in the early stages of a potentially significant crackdown on emissions from the coating of plastics, part of a broader effort to reduce pollution from paints and adhesives.
Large plastic coating operations will have to reduce their emissions of more than 180 EPA-identified hazardous air pollutants to the level of the best 12 percent of the plastics industry.
Exactly what EPA will require and what it will cost is not clear because the draft EPA rules are not due to come out until early 2000. Typically, processors can switch coatings or buy thermal oxidizers to control pollutants.
Kim Teal, EPA project leader for the plastic coating standard, said the agency is crunching numbers from a survey of hundreds of processors to determine how much is emitted by the cleanest 12 percent. The survey also will help show how much the worst emitters need to improve, she said.
The rule will be the first federal standard for coating of plastic, although some local and state governments may exist. The 1990 Clean Air Act requires EPA to reduce air pollution by developing standards for maximum achievable control technology, or MACTs.
Industry officials say they have been reducing emissions, and question whether strict new controls are needed.
``Our concern is, do we need to have that much control on it,'' said Marlae Fry, environment manager with the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington. ``Our processors feel they have sufficient controls'' and that they are not emitting excessive amounts of volatile organic compounds or hazardous air pollutants.
Teal agreed that the plastics industry has made good strides in reducing emissions, but said that ``in most cases, coatings are one of the largest contributors, with the exception of automobiles, to air pollution.''
EPA is trying to get as much input as possible to make the regulations practical, she said.
``Our intent is to help the environment without causing severe problems in the economy,'' she added.
One plant that received the EPA's 3-inch-thick survey was Mack Molding Co.'s Inman, S.C., factory. It took the company 110 hours to fill out the survey, the company said.
The injection molding plant has reduced its total emissions of VOCs and HAPs from more than 110 tons in 1990 to 36 tons of VOCs and 11 tons of HAPs in 1998, said Charles Millwood, plant environmental manager.
The company cut emissions by switching to water-based paints, eliminating painting entirely on some products, and changing techniques to use less paint, Millwood said.
The rule will apply to painting and other coatings, such as adhesives, enamels and caulks, but not printing, gel coatings or in-mold processes. It will include, for example, spray painting television or radio housings and baking them, or coating a plastic sign to protect it from the weather, Fry said.
The rule also is likely to require that new facilities and equipment meet even higher standards, comparable with the emissions of the best similar facility in the country, Teal said.
The standards will apply to any major source, defined as emitting more than 10 tons of any one HAP or 25 tons of total HAPs. Plants with the potential to be major emitters, even if they have unused capacity, also will be covered.
The standards will cover only emissions of HAPs, and not VOCs, which are covered by a different section of the Clean Air Act, Teal said. The plastic MACT is one of nine coating standards being developed.
For now, the EPA has divided the plastic coating standards into four segments: auto and truck parts, business machines, reinforced composites and miscellaneous plastic parts. The agency has not decided if each segment will have its own targets, Teal said.