FINISHING TOUCH: It's Not Easy Being Green

Columns From: Products Finishing, ,

Posted on: 11/13/2010

‘Model Shop Program’ tries to keep EPA at bay
It’s a tight line to walk these days between running a finishing company that turns a profit and one that is also environmentally friendly, especially when our local, state and federal regulators keep moving the line every day with new rules (read: more moolah out the door).But this month in Products Finishing we take a look at what a group of California finishers are doing to work with their regulatory agencies to stay on the right side of their environmental responsibilities.The ‘Model Shop Program’ we write about this month focuses on a voluntary partnership between some finishing organizations and regulators to become more eco-friendly and reducing the amount of waste and contaminants that may be hurting the environment.It’s not an easy thing to do, graduating as a ‘model’ shop.

It’s a tight line to walk these days between running a finishing company that turns a profit and one that is also environmentally friendly, especially when our local, state and federal regulators keep moving the line every day with new rules (read: more moolah out the door).

But this month in Products Finishing we take a look at what a group of California finishers are doing to work with their regulatory agencies to stay on the right side of their environmental responsibilities.

The ‘Model Shop Program’ we write about this month focuses on a voluntary partnership between some finishing organizations and regulators to become more eco-friendly and reducing the amount of waste and contaminants that may be hurting the environment.

It’s not an easy thing to do, graduating as a ‘model’ shop. Only two have done it so far in California, and the requirements make it easier to get into Harvard than it is to get a certificate and a pat on the back from the EPA.

But it can be done, as we demonstrate through the eyes of K&L Anodizing in Burbank and Sheffield Plating in San Diego. Clean equipment, dry floors, lots of properly filled out forms and inspection reports … but it’s plenty of hard work and determination.

While not everyone is singing ‘kumbaya’ with their local inspectors these days in sunny California, it is a step in the right direction, both economically and morally. Platers and finishers have always seemed to been treated as the lepers of the industrial and manufacturing sectors for their association with pollutants, but those days appear to be disappearing as more cooperation between the EPA and the trade groups have opened some dialogue on what the best course of action to take should be in being compliant with existing and future regulations.

But all the work with the “Model Shop Program’ still doesn’t present a reduce the amount of insane headlines that continue to pop up from time to time in the mainstream media whenever a finisher is caught with their hand in the cookie jar, so to speak.

The SoCal news media recently ran blaring headlines in October about EPA enforcement agents nabbing nine plating company for hazardous waste violations. “U.S. EPA conducts surprise inspections targeting SoCal, NoCal metal finishers,” the headline on the EPA news release stated after violations were found in Los Angeles, Rosemead, Sun Valley, Compton, Van Nuys, South El Monte and Santa Clara

The news release went on to say that “as a result of these enforcement actions, all nine companies returned to compliance with federal law and paid fines ranging from $2,000 to $48,500.”

So were they pouring toxic waste down the drain? Were they dumping hazardous waste in open fields under the light of the moon while no one was watching? Not exactly. Here’s at look at what some of the “scofflaws” actually did that was so terrible:
•    Failing to maintain the facility to minimize the possibility of a release of hazardous waste to air, soil, or surface water which could threaten human health or contaminate the environment (whatever that means)
•    Failing to label containers of hazardous waste which increases the possibility of improper handling of the waste
•    Failing to prepare or meet the requirements of a contingency plan, which increases the possibility of improper response to emergencies
•    Failing to provide proper training, which increases workers’ risk of exposure and increases the possibility of improper management of the wastes
•    Failing to inspect hazardous waste storage areas, increasing the possibility that containers may leak
•    Storage of hazardous waste for over 90 days without a permit

So realistically, they didn’t fill out the EPA paperwork correctly or something like that. At least that’s what I read. But that didn’t stop some EPA talking heads from pounding their chests like they just nabbed John Dillinger.

“Hazardous wastes pose a danger to residents and can cause serious environmental damage,” said Jeff Scott, director of the EPA’s Waste Management Division for the Pacific Southwest region. “EPA is committed to aggressive enforcement of federal law to protect communities and workers from the potential impacts of improperly managed hazardous waste.”

We wholeheartedly agree. But there is a big difference between labeling a can properly and tossing toxic gunk out in the trash.

Hopefully programs such as the ‘Model Shop Program’ can help platers and finishers better understand the ever-changing rules and regulations so they don’t get their names printed in their local newspapers as demons and evil-doers.

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