The Environmental Protection Agency’s New England region has awarded the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell an $82,000 grant to work with auto body and repair shops in Lowell, Springfield, Holyoke, Fall River and New Bedford.
The goal of the project is to provide safer alternatives and technical assistance to 30 auto body and repair shops to encourage them switch to non-solvent cleaning systems. Toxic spray gun washing chemicals — toluene and acetone – are known to cause damage to the central nervous system. Brake cleaning aerosol products typically contain perchloroethylene, a toxic chemical that is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It may also cause liver, kidney or central nervous system damage.
TURI staff and field workers are visiting shops in each city this fall to identify willing participants. The program will provide shops with a free three-month trial of safer brake cleaning products or paint gun washing systems, a before and after air monitoring study and technical support. The product trial period is expected to begin in January 2013.
“The biggest concerns we hear about switching to safer products is that they won’t work as well and they will be harder to use,” says Joy Onasch, community and small business program manager of at TURI. “That’s why the trial period with the safer alternatives and the technical assistance is critical to success.”
This program is modeled after the Boston Public Health Commission’s Safe Shops Project. Moreno Auto Body in Roxbury was one of the shops that tried the safer product and then made the switch because of the program.
“Using safer products is better for the health of both my clients and workers,” said owner Juan Chavez. “Our air quality has improved and I’m also saving money by using less solvent to wash the paint guns.”
Before and after indoor air quality monitoring of Moreno Auto Body showed substantial reductions of toxics — a 94 percent decrease in the presence of acetone and an 88 percent decrease in the presence of toluene.
TURI will supply participating shops a three-month trial period of the following cleaning system products: