In the run up to the Washington Forum, EPA regulation is in the spotlight, and finishers are getting some bad press. Recent coverage in the Chicago Tribune and the Cleveland Plain Dealer has focused on the presence of certain perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in finishing plants' wastewater streams. Typically used to suppress hex chrome fumes in finishing operations, the unregulated PFCs have thus far served as a safe, cost-effective means of reducing both air emissions and workplace exposure levels. Bottom line: What seemed like a solution to air pollution issues has potentially created a water pollution problem. And finishers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
A 2008 study of 11 finishing plants—four in Cleveland and seven in Chicago—has determined that releases from decorative chromium electroplating facilities could be a widespread source of PFCs in the environment—with potentially unhealthy levels filtering into our drinking water, our wildlife and our bodies. Although the study was too small to be statistically relevant, it's been picked up by national news outlets and has brought national attention to an issue our industry has already been hard at work on for years.
According to Christian Richter, executive director of the National Association for Surface Finishing, the NASF has long been proactively searching for safe and cost-effective replacements for certain PFCs. "Although currently there is no regulatory limit for certain PFC compounds in either drinking water or wastewater,” he says, “the industry's chemical suppliers have continued to research, test and commercialize alternatives for PFC substances of concern."
Interested in learning more about PFCs? Read the April issue of Products Finishing for a history of the substance and what effects its regulation may have on your company. You can also attend the talk "Industry-EPA Collaboration - Next Steps." EPA has agreed to participate in key industry technical and policy sessions on fume suppressants at the upcoming NASF Washington Forum (April 27-28, 2010) and at the NASF SUR/FIN conference in Grand Rapids, MI (June 14-17, 2010).