AQMD Restricts High Polluting Cleaning Solvents
Los Angeles Times
Saturday, September 14, 1996, METRO, PART B, PAGE 1
used with permission from LATIMES
AQMD Restricts High-Polluting Cleaning Solvents
By Marla Cone
TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER
Breaking its three-year impasse in enacting major rules to fight smog, the region’s air quality board ordered about 32,000 Southern California businesses Friday to stop using high-polluting, petroleum-based cleaning solvents.
The new mandate, effective in two years, is one of the single most efficient anti-smog measures that the South Coast Air Quality Management District anticipates adopting over the next two decades.
The decision came after a debate pitting businesses that support low-polluting, water-based solvents against those that favor the old products. Effective cleaning compounds are essential to all manufacturers and auto repair shops for scouring parts and keeping machinery in working order.
Friday’s decision was considered pivotal for the AQMD. It is the first time since 1993 that the board, criticized by many conservative legislators and business leaders for its aggressive attack on pollution in the 1980s, has cut a substantial source of emissions from local businesses by enacting a measure outlined in its smog plan.
Over the next few months, the AQMD board will consider enacting a series of other long-delayed and controversial regulations.
After the vote, AQMD board Chairman Jon Mikels said the new solvent mandate constitutes “a significant fraction” of the reductions in air pollution planned by the board and is “one of the most difficult ones” because of some opposition. But Mikels, a San Bernadino County supervisor, said the companies have a long period to adjust and he expects the mandate to help, not harm, the local economy.
Businesses in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernadino counties must switch from the highly evaporative chemical compounds to water-based detergents, acetone or other low-polluting alternatives for cleaning metal parts and machinery, no later than January, 1999. Exempted industries include aerospace, semiconductors and dry-cleaning plants.
The petroleum-based cleaners are a significant contributor to Southern California’s smog, and they create large volumes of hazardous waste.
Use of the low-polluting solvents will eliminate hydrocarbons in the air equivalent to those produced by 365,000 average cars on the road, or almost twice the emissions or the area’s giant oil refineries, according to the air quality officials. The solvent mandate will remove more hydrocarbons than any rule adopted by the AQMD in the previous eight years.
The decision originally had been expected to be an easy and non-controversial one for the board members because the AQMD estimates that water-based solvents would save the businesses an estimated $4.5 million per year.
But opposition was led by a large, influential company, Illinois-based Safety-Kleen Corp., which sells solvents and services related equipment at 27,000 of the affected Southland businesses and 400,000 nationwide.
Safety-Kleen representatives said mandating use of the alternative cleaners would hurt many auto repair shops and other small businesses because the substances are sometimes less effective and more time-consuming, and can have higher start-up and maintenance costs.
Some of the businesses said they will ask the state Legislature to overturn the rule. The board’s two most conservative members, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, left the meeting before the 7-1 vote in favor of the new mandate.
Other businesses, however, that use or supply the low-polluting detergents told the board they are just as effective and safer to use. Some accused Safety-Kleen of trying to preserve its dominant market share and prevent others from selling better and cheaper products.
An AQMD analysis found that water-based products generally cost about half as much to buy, and because most are nontoxic and biodegradable, about half as much to dispose of. Still, without the regulation speeding up transition, many repair shops and industries have been reluctant to change.
“This is long overdue….The people who use this product use it because it works, it’s safe and it’s responsible,” said Bill Sheaffer, vice president of Mirachem Corp., and Arizona company that supplies nontoxic solvents.
The environmental impact of disposing of the detergents with the accompanying grease and grime into the sewers has not yet been studied by local water officials. Still, the region’s county sewage agencies and the city of Los Angeles supported the rule because the AQMD vowed to help eliminate any harm to water quality.
Gail Ruderman Feuer, a senior attorney of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the concerns about water quality are minor compared with those about the petroleum cleaners, which pose more serious hazards when they are dumped illegally into sewers.
The top executive of the Wilson administration’s air board, Michael Kenny, supported the new rule, calling it a “critical step in maintaining progress” toward combating smog statewide. A top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality official agreed.
The new cleaners must contain virtually no volatile organic compounds, which evaporate and react with nitrogen oxides in sunlight to form ozone, a potent gas in smog.