By Joe Maty
Editor, Durability + Design
The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), which imposes the toughest air-quality regulations on field-applied coatings anywhere in the country, is weighing additional control measures that could be approved next year.
Possible revisions to the district’s Rule 1113—which sets stringent VOC limits on architectural and industrial maintenance coatings—are in a preliminary discussion stage. But that isn’t keeping representatives of coatings manufacturers from sounding an early alarm about what the SCAQMD may have in store next for the industry.
At the top of the list of industry concerns is the potential for lower VOC limits on the broad category of “primers, sealers and undercoaters,” and the possible elimination of “flexibility provisions” that include a product-line VOC “averaging” compliance option and a small-container exemption.
“The lower numbers would be more tolerable if they keep the averaging option,” said Robert Wendoll, environmental affairs director for Dunn-Edwards Corp., the biggest regional coatings manufacturer in the South Coast district.
Also included in a preliminary draft of possible Rule 1113 revisions is a provision that would make simple possession of non-compliant products a violation of district regulations, an idea that Wendoll likened to a “police state” measure. And manufacturers also take a dim view of a proposal to reduce the “sell-through” period for distribution of non-compliant products to one year from the current three years after the effective date of changes to Rule 1113.
“That’s completely infeasible for an industry like ours with a very complex chain of distribution,” Wendoll said.
For painting contractors, Wendoll said, “it boils down to higher costs, higher likelihood of enforcement actions against them, and lower-performing products in certain categories, in particular primers.”
The SCAQMD often serves as a laboratory for technology-forcing measures aimed at trimming the environmental impact of paints and coatings, and air-quality authorities elsewhere often follow the district’s lead. And Wendoll pointed out that the U.S. Green Building Council is considering a move to make the SCAQMD Rule 1113 on coatings VOCs the basis for its LEED credit on low-emitting paint and coatings, as part of the USGBC’s plan to issue an update of the LEED rating system in 2012.
The preliminary draft of the rule showing revisions being studied by SCAQMD staff can be viewed at Rule 1113 draft.
Process in a Preliminary Stage
Naveen Berry, SCAQMD planning and rules manager, emphasized that any revisions to Rule 1113 are in an early discussion stage. A draft of possible changes to the rule only represents “concepts” that SCAQMD staff is studying as potential ways to reduce VOC emissions, he said. “It’s more along the lines of what staff’s thinking is, and what’s doable in terms of implementation.”
SCAQMD staff has conducted three “working group” meetings with industry representatives, with another meeting scheduled for Dec. 15. The meetings are conducted prior to any formal proposal on amendments, which are then discussed at public workshops. Berry said such a hearing is tentatively planned for mid-January, with Rule 1113 amendments possibly going to the district board for approval in March.
Berry also said it was too early to speculate on a timetable for implementation of any Rule 1113 amendments that are eventually approved.
Wendoll, a longtime participant in the SCAQMD rulemaking process, said the district’s track record suggests that such preliminary “concepts” invariably evolve into policy and written-in-stone regulation. And he said the preliminary, draft amendments to Rule 1113 would have the effect of eliminating some “essential” primers, sealers and undercoaters, which would be required to meet a VOC limit of 50 grams per liter.
While the primer, sealer and undercoater category includes products such as drywall sealers that present no real technical challenge at low VOC content levels, the description also includes products for application to wood and other substrates, and in exterior environments, where adhesion may be compromised.
And without the existing averaging provision, manufacturers would not have the ability to formulate higher-performance, specialty products that currently can be offered under the district’s averaging option. That provision allows companies to make some higher-VOC products, as long as the total product-line VOC average meets prescribed levels.
As for the “possession” issue, Wendoll questioned the value and effectiveness of any measure that would give the district the power to seize and destroy products and send a bill for the cost to residents or other paint users.
Elimination of the existing small-container exemption also would mean the end of an important “safety valve” that allows effective touch-up and repair activities as opposed to complete repainting, Wendoll said.
The Wrong Target at the Wrong Time?
The preliminary draft of potential Rule 1113 revisions includes a handful of other “wish-list” ideas that manufacturers and users won’t find appealing.
• Larger print size for VOC content on paint-container labels, which will add costs at a time when manufacturers are hard-pressed to operate profitably, and
• Regulation, for the first time, of the VOC content of colorants, with the exception of solvent-borne industrial maintenance coatings.
In addition, Wendoll said many in the industry believe SCAQMD should not be making any major revisions in VOC regulations at this time, in part because coatings sales volumes have taken a major hit due to the effects of the economic slowdown of the past several years. “And we don’t see them increasing significantly in the next couple of years,” he said.
Wendoll said the Los Angeles area’s ongoing problems with low-level ozone pollution, or smog, continue to be primarily the result of vehicle-exhaust emissions and other combustion-related emissions.
Berry, however, said the region remains the nation’s only “extreme nonattainment” area for ozone pollution, meaning the district is obligated to pursue “all feasible measures” to bring the area into compliance with EPA air-quality standards under the mandate of the agency’s 2007 air quality management plan.