WASHINGTON — Releases of toxic chemicals from the plastics processing and rubber industries declined in 1998, mirroring a long-term decline in all manufacturing industries, according to Environmental Protection Agency statistics released May 11. One plastic monomer that typically ranks in the top 20 chemicals emitted, styrene, saw its emissions rise in 1998, which an industry source said could pose regulatory challenges for the composites industry.
Pollution from manufacturing industries in general, and plastics and rubber specifically, have declined more than 40 percent since 1988, when the EPA began collecting statistics. EPA statistics released May 11 do not separate plastics from rubber. The figures also do not include emissions from resin production, which are reported as part of chemical manufacturing.
Styrene emissions from all industries increased from 47.5 million pounds in 1997 to 56.4 million pounds in 1998. That's up from 36.6 million pounds in 1988. About 70 percent of styrene emissions are from composites fabricators, said John DiFazio, director of issue management and industry affairs for Dow Chemical Co.'s Washington office and chairman of the Styrene Information and Research Center in Arlington, Va.
The composites industry is becoming much more accurate about measuring emissions, making it harder to show benefits from reductions that the industry is making, DiFazio said. Also, some new technologies that reduce emissions may not have been implemented fast enough to show in the 1998 data, he said.
"It wasn't until 1996 or 1997 that the industry started to really take ownership of the fact that they had to start reducing emissions," DiFazio said.
But rising emissions means styrene is likely to attract more attention from regulators, particularly at the state level, DiFazio said.
Since 1988, plastics and rubber industry emissions have dropped 42 percent, from 189.2 million pounds.
The chemical industry reported 737.1 million pounds of emissions in 1998, making it the largest manufacturing industry segment