More today than ever before, concerns for health, safety and the environment (HSE) are top of mind not only for environmentalists, regulators and community advocates but also for manufacturing companies and their workers. Governing agencies across the globe are dedicating more resources to tighter air emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), greenhouse gases (GHGs) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions. As a result, composites manufacturers are facing stronger enforcement efforts to create cleaner processes.
With a nationwide initiative that began in 2004, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) has focused on reducing toxic air emissions that are known or suspected to cause cancer, other serious health risks or negative environmental effects. In an effort to reduce HAPs, the initiative will expand, with tighter compliance monitoring requirements beginning in 2017.
Moving from regional to global impact
The United States is not the only country implementing compliance changes meant to identify excessive toxic air emissions. Evidence of a global effort can be seen in Europe, China and the Asia-Pacific region, among others. More specifically, Europe’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) standards will include updated regulatory lists; China is considering expanding the AirNOW international environmental monitoring system in partnership with the EPA; and even smaller countries in the region, such as Thailand, are expected to increase compliance efforts.
These initiatives result in major emissions reductions, proven to make a difference for hundreds of thousands of people. According to the EPA, enforcement efforts in reduced cancer risk from air pollution for more than 900,000 people.
No matter where the initiatives originated — NESHAP, REACH or efforts in other countries — they have proven to reduce exposure to HAPs and VOCs, and enhance air quality for manu- facturers on the shop floor. Because of these findings, composites manufacturers are in a position to improve working conditions while reducing environmental impacts, and it is a shift many manufacturers are now embracing.
Preparing for tighter enforcement
There are consequences for violating emissions standards and compliance requirements, and these can create many problems for composites manufacturers. Depending on the region and magnitude of the violation, manufacturers could face downtime, lost productivity, cease-and-desist orders, fines and even closure.
The good news is all of these penalties are avoidable. The methods listed below are proven to help manufacturers implement strong HSE compliance practices.
Establish a team to monitor changes. Stay in front of ever-changing emissions standards by creating a team to monitor and manage regulations. If resources do not permit an in-house team, consider working with an outside regulatory consultant who specializes in compliance research and implementation. This is especially important for manufacturers with a global footprint.
Outline and implement specific processes. Create checklists for different regulatory areas, so there’s a process to follow and paperwork to track compliance. To cover the basics, monitor product changes, SDS, supplier practices, onsite VOC generation and shop floor activity.
Partner with your suppliers. Most suppliers are likely to work in a global business setting. Work with supplying partners to monitor and review products used on the shop floor and to tailor products to better suit your needs.
Encourage a safety culture. Employees are your greatest advocates, as they work closely with your processes and products. Provide training and materials to help focus attention on understanding and maintaining regulatory standards, and reward behavior that helps meet HSE goals. Many companies develop sustainability programs to help promote and implement an envi- ronmental mindset.
Benefiting businesses and employees
Beyond a negative impact on the business side, manufacturers also are considering risk factors for employees when working conditions are unacceptable. Instead of implementing reactive strategies, many manufacturers today are embracing compliance monitoring to greatly reduce or even eliminate the use of harsh chemicals in their processes and to establish better HSE standards across the board.
There’s a need for composites manufacturers to create cleaner and safer working conditions, which goes beyond improving the existing state of operations and environmental impact for keeping and attracting new talent. Chem-Trend has seen a far greater use of water-based processing aids by manufacturers worldwide, which illustrates a stronger commitment to employee health and welfare.
Running out of time for processing aid compliance
In addition to compliance monitoring, manufacturing processing aids also must be considered. Because HSE compliance efforts are expected to expand on a global scale, many manufacturing processing aids currently on the market, including sealers, release agents and cleaners, will be unusable in the near future. All products that contain chemicals from the EPA’s HAPs list — and updated lists from other countries — will only cause bigger problems down the road, making proactive compliance strategies all the more important.
Although regulators, environmentalists and air emissions advocates are pushing for solvent-free processing aids, it can sometimes be a tough sell. Manufacturers are looking to improve bottom lines, increase production and improve operational effi- ciency, and the stigma surrounding performance from solvent-free processing aids remains a hurdle for adoption.
Some manufacturers still believe that solvents offer better performance than nonsolvents, despite advancements in technology that prove otherwise. Industry leaders have already developed high-performance processing aids that are solvent-free and compliant with current EPA initiatives. In fact, Chem-Trend has developed HAPs-free options that perform just as well as, if not better than, some of the solvent-based options on the market today.
When it comes to processing aids, manufacturers have more options than ever before. Some existing HAPs-free formulations offer benefits beyond improved HSE standards, including faster application, more durability for multiple releases between applications and greater ease of use, enabling manufacturers to find the best product solution for compliance, HSE goals and production demands.
Considering carefully and starting early
As commitment to higher HSE standards increases on a global scale, composites manufacturers will continue to see tighter compliance efforts. The key to building strong practices, safer working conditions and reduced environmental impact is to dedicate a team to compliance research, considering all product options and implementing a plan early.