The Environmental Protection Agency is taking a closer look at emissions from polystyrene processors, but it's not clear if the review will lead to any significant changes in how the industry is regulated.
Three EPA regional offices are examining how the industry calculates its emissions of volatile organic compounds, which create smog when they react with nitrogen oxide in the presence of sunlight. The regional offices - in San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago - have sent letters to PS processors during the past several months.
``We're just trying to gather information,'' said Ann Lyons, a staff lawyer with the EPA Region 9 office in San Francisco, which covers the Pacific Southwest, including California and Arizona. ``Most of these companies have permits that contain emissions limits, [and] we want to make sure that the actual emissions are below the permitted limits.''
That EPA office said it recently found one expanded PS foam manufacturer in Phoenix, Henry Products Inc., in violation of state and federal law because it was venting VOC emissions into the air.
The EPA said inspectors in Maricopa County, Arizona, first noted the violation in October. Both EPA and Maricopa inspectors found the same violations when they returned in February, and in late May, EPA ordered the company to correct the problem or face fines.
HPI officials did not respond to several requests for comments.
EPA officials said their broader review of the PS industry is not based on suspicions that there are widespread violations. Rather, the agency is exploring whether emissions factors used by the industry are accurate, said Katie Watt, an environmental engineer with EPA's Region 10 office in Seattle.
Emissions factors are what companies use to estimate their emissions, which in turn can determine the type of permits and fees that local air-quality agencies issue, Watt said. The Seattle office started its review after being contacted by the EPA's San Francisco office, she said.
Region 10's review is focusing on the EPS industry. Watt said the agency has noticed a variety of emissions factors being used by the EPS industry for volatile organic compounds and wants to make sure they are applied consistently, she said.
``We're really just gaining information,'' Watt said. ``We don't know what the right answer is for emissions factors.''
Betsy Steiner, executive director of the EPS Molders Association in Crofton, Md., said her association started to get calls from companies about a month ago, and still is trying to understand the EPA review. She said EPA has been cracking down on VOC emissions in many urban areas that don't meet federal standards.
She said it's important to consider the improvements in emissions-control technology in the past 10 years.