Air pollution rules for coatings calm paint industry

The paint industry has wrested concessions from the Department of the Environment (DoE) in its campaign against a draft guidance note on the control of emissions from coatings manufacture. The final version of the note gives the industry an extra year in which to upgrade its existing processes, eases the rules on emission testing and solvent use inventories, and makes it less likely that abatement equipment for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) will be needed in many cases.1

The guidance is the last in a series of 78 notes which lay down air emission rules for sectors controlled by local authorities under Part I of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

None of the 77 notes attracted more open hostility from industry than the draft guidance on coatings manufacture. The opposition was led by the paint industry, the main sector affected (ENDS Report 197, pp 16-20).

The Paintmakers Association (PMA) claimed that the draft would require its members to invest £400 million in abatement measures, principally to curb VOC emissions. This level of expenditure, it argued, would be quite disproportionate to the environmental benefits likely to be achieved, since no more than 2% of the total VOC emissions arising from the production and use of coatings are released from manufacturing facilities.

One of the industry's key demands was that it should be given a substantially longer period than its customers to upgrade its existing processes to the emission standards laid down for new plant. It argued that it would not be clear for some years whether customers would be prepared to switch to lower zero-solvent coatings so as to avoid the need to invest in VOC abatement facilities themselves, or stick with existing higher-solvent coatings and thereby require their suppliers to install VOC controls as well. The result, the PMA argued, would be that its members might invest significant sums in VOC controls only to find that these were not needed because their customers had opted for the low-solvent route.

The draft guidance proposed that coatings producers should have until April 1998 to upgrade. This deadline has now been pushed forward to April 1999. This is some way short of the PMA's demand for its members to be given five years beyond the upgrading deadlines faced by its main customers, which generally fall between one and three years earlier (see table ).

The concession has put the PMA in a more relaxed mood. Part of the explanation for this lies in the mechanics of the authorisation procedure for existing processes.

Applications for authorisation of both coatings manufacture and processes using coatings have to be in by the end of September. Local authorities then have up to 12 months to determine the applications. Once an authorisation is issued, operators must submit a programme showing how they intend to upgrade their processes to the standards applicable to new plant. The period allowed for coatings users is six months, but coatings manufacturers have 12 months to submit their upgrading plans.

The upshot is that it should be reasonably clear early in 1994 whether users intend to switch to lower zero-solvent coatings, or alternatively comply with the VOC emission limits by installing abatement equipment. Coatings producers will then be able to formulate their own upgrading programmes accordingly, and will have five years in which to implement them.

According to the PMA, the likely rate and extent of customer acceptance of low-VOC products remains an unknown in some sectors - notably the marine and aircraft industries and a variety of plastic and metal finishing operations. But in sectors such as can and coil coating, wood finishing and vehicle painting and refinishing, coatings producers are now reasonably confident either that low-VOC coatings will achieve substantial market penetration or that end-users will opt for VOC incineration. As a result, the PMA's earlier estimate that its members would need to spend up to £400 million on abatement facilities no longer holds.

Other changes to the draft guidance have also helped to alleviate the PMA's concerns. For example, the final guidance now allows VOC emissions to be assessed by calculation as an alternative to direct measurement in some cases. And details of the VOC content and quantity of coatings produced will not need to be included in the solvent inventories which companies will have to submit twice a year to local authorities.

The guidance also draws an important distinction between a VOC emission source and an emission point. The draft guidance appeared to require that, if the amount of VOC emitted from any particular emission source exceeded one kilogram in any eight-hour period, a VOC emission limit of 50mg/m3 would have applied.

Paint manufacturers argued that this could have been interpreted as requiring the installation of abatement equipment on an emission point - that is, the final discharge to the atmosphere from a number of sources - even if only one of the emission sources concerned exceeded the one kilo threshold, and even if the abatement equipment might never have to be brought into operation because the overall emission was within the 50mg/m3 limit.

The final guidance makes it clear that VOC emissions above the one kilo threshold for a source need only to be vented to abatement equipment if this is necessary to comply with the 50mg/m3 standard. Annual testing of emissions from an emission point serving any such emission source will be required.

A possible danger with this revised approach is that operators could seek to avoid the installation of abatement facilities by arranging their VOC exhaust ventilation equipment so as to dilute high-VOC streams with low-VOC streams. In doing so they might be able to keep the final release from an emission point below 50mg/m3, although the mass release of VOCs would remain unchanged.

The adhesives industry is also caught by the guidance note. However, it has been less concerned about the financial implications than the paint producers. According to the British Adhesives and Sealants Association (BASA), the sector uses smaller quantities of more expensive solvents than the paint industry, and has therefore already had a good incentive to install solvent recovery equipment. Some additional recovery facilities will nevertheless be necessary among the 30-40 companies affected by the new controls.

In any event, says BASA, adhesives users will be far more affected by the legislation than manufacturers. A "considerable dip" in the market for solvent-based adhesives is already under way, providing suppliers with a stimulus to invest in alternative products. Water-based products, hot-melt adhesives, two-part mixes and adhesives with reduced solvent contents are among the alternatives on offer.

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