In recent years, major composites fabricators have invested millions of dollars and too many hours to count in an all-out effort to reduce styrene emissions. Nevertheless, the most recent government data shows styrene monomer releases actually rose in 1998, the most recent year available. Since nearly all chemical emissions from other industries have been dropping, the styrene data sticks out like a sore thumb.
If the composites industry isn't careful, that trend is likely to mean trouble in the next few years.
Some observers expect rising emissions to mean styrene will get extra attention from state and federal regulators in coming months. Already the Environmental Protection Agency is moving toward stricter styrene emission limits, which will be implemented in 2004.
In Canada, some provinces are implementing a 20 part-per-million limit on an eight-hour, time-weighted average — less than a fifth of the current U.S. limit of 100 ppm. EPA is likely to cut its limit in half, and some U.S. states are certain to mimic the stricter Canadian provincial ceiling.
Stricter standards will have an impact. Large companies are likely to close smaller plants, rather than invest in expensive new control systems. Smaller firms that can't make the grade may disappear completely.
The composites industry needs to make sure that regulators and legislators understand that fabricators have invested heavily to reduce styrene emissions. They'd prefer to continue that effort voluntarily, instead of with the threat of fines or government shutdowns. Doing so will mean redoubling efforts to reduce emissions, making sure legislators are aware of that ongoing drive, plus clearly and honestly communicating the impact that tough regulations would have on local employers.