Saying that it was unable to come to terms with the Environmental Protection Agency over how to reduce pollution from its factory, a small Southern California molder has closed up its shop and moved operations to Mexico.
Advance Foam Plastics Inc., part of Denver-based ACH Foam Technologies LLC, closed its Azusa, Calif., plant and, in an Oct. 5 settlement with EPA, paid a $150,000 fine. Advance said the issues with EPA ``weighed heavily'' in its decision to transfer production of its expanded polystyrene insulation material just across the border, to Tijuana.
The Advance move, along with fines against two other PS foam processors in California and Arizona, has gotten the attention of industry officials, who say they are responding by working with EPA to draft more accurate tools for measuring pollution from the industry.
There's no indication from government officials that the PS foam industry is being specifically targeted by EPA inspectors, but the enforcement actions do come after EPA officials in three regional offices covering 12 states last year started sending letters to the industry to gather information about emissions levels.
Besides the Advance case, PS construction materials manufacturer Diversified Panel Systems Inc. in Oxnard, Calif., agreed in August 2004 to pay a $152,000 fine and upgrade its pollution controls. EPA last year also accused a Maricopa County, Arizona, PS foam maker, Henry Products Inc., of violating air pollution rules.
Advance said it was not admitting wrongdoing, but under the settlement it agreed to pay the fine and surrendered its manufacturing permit.
Andy Lineberry, director of manufacturing operations for Advance, said the EPA problems ``weighed heavily'' in the decision to close Azusa and open the Tijuana plant, which has about 20 employees. The company still maintains a warehouse in Azusa, and has eight other factories in the United States.
He said the company had been trying for several years to work out a solution, and was trying to demonstrate that its system of capturing pollutants and burning them as fuel in a boiler was working.
But EPA accused the company of violating Clean Air Act requirements for Southern California, which limit manufacturers to emitting no more than 2.4 pounds of volatile organic compounds per 100 pounds of raw materials used.
All of the PS foam cases involve VOC emissions. Regulators target VOCs because in sunlight they react with other pollutants to form ground-level ozone, or smog.
EPA spokeswoman Margaret Waldon said Advance started having problems when it got a permit to expand operations in 2001, but was not able to comply with air-emissions rules. The company failed several tests measuring VOC emissions, which would have required it to install devices capable of reducing pollution by 90 percent, she said.
``We started negotiating with the facility about how they could improve controls,'' she said. ``At some point in that discussion, AFP made the decision they would cease manufacturing at that location.''
She said Advance did not have to close its operation, noting that Diversified Panel was able to upgrade its pollution-control systems and remain in California.
The chief motivator for regulators is meeting tough new federal ozone emission standards for urban areas.
Southern California's smog is among the worst in the nation, and its new plans will have to be more strict and much more protective of public health, said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which oversees air quality in the Los Angeles region.
One EPS industry trade group said it is seeing more EPA interest in reducing emissions, and expects regulators to be tougher as they implement the new eight-hour federal standards.
Betsy Steiner, executive director of the EPS Molders Association in Crofton, Md., said industry needs to develop better data to give to EPA when it estimates typical emissions factors for different industries. EPSMA is hiring a consultant to update data that in some cases goes back to 1988, Steiner said.
She said it does not look like EPS molders are being singled out, but rather are getting caught up in a broader push.
``Are we seeing increased inspections and are we seeing increased pressure? Yes,'' she said. But, she added, ``We don't have evidence that the [EPS] industry is being targeted.''