March 07, 2012

EPA Enforcement: Cleaning the Cleaners

Posted on March 7, 2012 by Stephen Leonard

Businesses that use volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in their industrial processes have long been regulated under the Clean Air Act and State Implementation Plans (SIPs) approved under the Act.  The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Air Pollution Control Regulations, for example, contain very specific VOC control requirements at 310 CMR 7.18 for dozens of types of businesses and industries.  They regulate manufacturing processes (vinyl, polystyrene resin); surface coating (metal furniture, metal can, large appliance, magnetic wire, automobile, metal coil, miscellaneous metal, fabric, vinyl, plastic parts, leather, wood products, flat wood paneling); finishing (textiles, automotive refinishing); and degreasing.  The regulations prohibit use of cutback asphalt, and they limit the volatile portion of the inks used in various printing lines.  And, famously, they regulate the emissions, and hence the nostalgia-inducing aroma, of bakeries.

All of this is necessary because VOCs are a precursor to ozone, one of the original six “criteria pollutants” that Congress required EPA (and the states, through their EPA-approved SIPs) to control, in order to meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards that EPA set for those pollutants.  Notwithstanding a long history of VOC regulatory enforcement, the air quality in all of Massachusetts – indeed all of southern New England – remains in “non-attainment” with the NAAQS for ozone.

EPA Region 1, which is based in Boston, has recently focused on a particular aspect of the problem:  the release of VOCs in connection with operation of “industrial laundries”.  These facilities serve the laundering needs of many different kinds of businesses and institutions – those, like hospitals, that require a steady supply of clean uniforms, and those, like print shops, that use towels to clean their equipment and therefore need a steady supply of fresh ones.  Some of those uniforms and towels contain volatile organic compounds.  And the VOCs can be released at various stages of an industrial laundry’s process of handling them for its customers, including collection, storage, transport, and washing of laundry. 

EPA’s initiative has included information requests sent pursuant to Section 114 of the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7414, and seeking detailed information about the laundries’ collection practices, their storage equipment, their operations and materials usage and – notably – their customers.  Based on the responses, EPA has required emissions testing at certain facilities, and it has issued Notices of Violation.  In one case during the summer of 2011, the Department of Justice, on behalf of EPA, sued an industrial laundry in New Hampshire (southern New Hampshire does not attain the ozone standard), alleging that the facility’s construction and operation, without prior approval, constituted violations of, among other things, the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act.  The Consent Decree which settled the case requires payment of a civil penalty, modification of operating practices, installation of pollution control equipment, purchase and retirement of Emission Reduction Credits and implementation of a Supplemental Environmental Project.  

EPA continues its enforcement efforts with respect to other facilities in New England.  Whether those efforts will ultimately be successful in bringing southern New England, or parts of it, into compliance with the NAAQS for ozone is open to question, given the persistence of the problem and the wide variety of sources for precursor pollutants.  It is clear, though, that enforcement activity with respect to industrial laundries forms a part of EPA Region 1’s ozone-control strategy.  Other regions with similar non-attainment problems may be close behind.

Tags: Clean Air ActEPAozonevolatile organic compounds (VOCs)


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