Several Environmental Protection Agency regional offices want to crack down on emissions of six cancer-causing chemicals in the plastics foam and resin manufacturing industries, with an initial focus on vinyl chloride monomer.
EPA's initiative is aimed at what government officials call ``media shifting'' - a regulatory loophole that lets companies move emissions from one medium, such as air, to another, like waste-water treatment, either intentionally to avoid tough emissions requirements, or unintentionally as a byproduct of complying with regulations.
The EPA program is starting in its Region 3 office, based in Philadelphia, but regional offices in Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas also will be participating.
Agency officials said they do not have data on how prevalent the practice actually is. Anecdotally, inspectors notice media shifting, and the practice does go on because some consultants offer advice on how to shift emissions, said Samantha Fairchild, director of enforcement and compliance in EPA's Philadelphia office.
Frank Borrelli, technical director with the Arlington, Va.-based Vinyl Institute, said VCM emissions have dropped more than 95 percent since the mid-1970s, when government tightened regulation. Since EPA started tracking toxic release inventory data in 1987, VCM emissions per ton of PVC manufactured have dropped 72 percent, he said.
He said industry works hard to meet existing regulations, which he said are comprehensive.
EPA officials are not looking for specific reductions and want the effort to be voluntary. Fairchild said they are searching for companies to be models, and she said the effort will include enforcement and inspections.
The focus for Region 3 will be vinyl chloride, since that five-state region emits 34 percent of the nation's VCM, said Fairchild. Nationally, the four regions participating account for 96 percent of the country's VCM emissions.
Besides VCM, the effort is looking at five other chemicals: propylene dichloride, trichloroethylene, methylene chloride, ethylene oxide and acetaldehyde.
Fairchild said the problem could be occurring both because firms intentionally move emissions to less-regulated sources, and because firms wind up inadvertently shifting emissions to comply with existing regulations, such as when firms install scrubbers to catch air emissions.
``This is not just a hammer. We're saying, `Guys, we're going to put the spotlight on this,' '' she said. ``There is a lot of vinyl chloride for our region and we want to figure out how it is getting out there.''
Fairchild said the result of the program eventually could be an effort to tighten regulations.
The effort is targeting Standard Industrial Classification codes 3086, plastic foam; 2821, plastics materials; and 2869, industrial organic chemicals.