Industrial Cleanser

The EPA is targeting small business for pollution cleanup.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants small manufacturers in cities nationwide to help clean the air. And that means companies that make products with certain hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) will have to make some changes in the way they do business.

The EPA put out its first "hit list" this summer, targeting small companies in 13 industries, including those that manufacture anything plastic or rubber, do paint stripping, use flexible polyurethane foam, use organic and inorganic chemicals, and more. (For a list of all 13 industries, visit The good news is, there will be no regulatory edict for any of these companies until 2004. The bad news is, other hit lists--for companies that use metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), for example--are on their way.

The hit lists include industries that emit ostensibly significant amounts of 33 HAPs plus diesel exhaust. The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments require the EPA to come up with a list of at least 30 of the most troublesome HAPs and the "area sources"--EPA lingo for small and midsized companies (any industrial facility that emits less than 10 tons of one HAP or less than 25 tons of any combination of HAPs)--that account for 90 percent of those emissions.

It isn't at all clear what the companies on the hit lists will be required to do; the EPA will probably give them a choice. In some instances, companies will have to switch to raw materials. Others may have to install new ventilation systems. Still others may get away with doing very little, although probably all companies will have additional paperwork and monitoring to do.

The EPA listing process is controversial. For example, many of the companies on the hit list contribute a miniscule portion of the "90 percent" emissions in a particular HAP category. Take plastics, for example. That sector accounts for 2.5 percent of vinyl chloride, 1.6 percent of acrylonitrile and similar percentages in the other HAP categories it's listed in. In many HAP categories, there's one big emitter, frequently municipal landfills, that accounts for a majority of the emissions.

"To the extent the EPA believes vinyl chloride emissions in urban areas require further regulation, landfills, not sites that manufacture or process EDC, VCM or PVC, should be the agency's regulatory priority," contends Peter de la Cruz, a Washington, DC, attorney with Keller & Heckman, which represents the Vinyl Institute. Ethylene dichloride, vinyl chloride monomer and polyvinyl chloride are components of vinyl, which is used in medical products such as blood bags and tubing; automotive parts such as instrument panel molding and floor mats; and construction products such as flooring, siding and roofing. A look at just this one sector being considered by the EPA offers a clear idea of just how many small businesses could be affected by this latest EPA move.

Stephen Barlas is a business reporter who covers the Washington beat for 15 magazines.

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Industrial Cleanser.

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