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5/1/2001 | 16 MINUTE READ

What's Going on with MP&M?

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The EPA has its position. Industry has its position. Each job shop affected by the rule has its position...


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The Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Metal Products and Machinery (MP&M) Rule was signed on Tuesday, October 31, 2000. According to EPA, the rule establishes technology-based effluent limitations and pretreatment standards for wastewater discharges associated with the operation of new and existing metal products and machinery facilities. The limitations are specific to each industry and based on specific processes or treatment technologies to control pollutant discharges.

EPA does not require dischargers to use a specific technology, claiming individual facilities may meet the requirements by adopting treatment technologies and processes that best suit their needs.


Industry asks, "Why do we have to meet these levels? Is it just because they can be reached using a certain type of technology? What are the benefits?" (See Table I) Some of the industry arguments against the proposed rule that have been raised by the finishing industry at hearings conducted by the EPA include the following:

1) The rule is unnecessary because the industry is already regulated under EPA's pretreatment program;
2) The proposed limits cannot be met using the control technology identified by EPA as Best Available Technology (BAT);
3) The proposed rule would produce little, if any, environmental benefit;
4) In its attempt to justify the rule, EPA has overestimated the amount of pollutants that would be removed from wastewater discharges by the rule;
5) EPA has dramatically and incorrectly underestimated the economic impact the rule will have on the finishing industry;
6) EPA's database is inadequate and is not representative of the finishing industry; and
7) EPA's data analysis is suspect and a departure from its standard operating procedures.

Industry representatives include the Government Relations Committee, represented by The Policy Group in Washington, DC. The Government Relations Committee is made up of individuals from the National Association of Metal Finishers (NAMF), the Metal Finishing Suppliers' Association (MFSA) and the American Electroplaters and Surface Finishers Society (AESF). The Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies is also fighting the rule. Comments from this association can be found later in the article.

Industry efforts to derail EPA's proposed MP&M rule are gaining momentum. Government Relations has secured a 60-day extension for the MP&M comment period after meeting with senior officials in EPA's Office of Water and discussing logistical problems with the MP&M public docket, industry's difficulty in obtaining necessary technical information related to the development of the rule and additional data required for adequate public notice and comment. The comment period will run until July 2, 2001.

Industry also has questions concerning the sampling protocol used by EPA to determine the limits it established. Government Relations is working with key technical consultants to finalize a sampling protocol for collecting wastewater data to support industry's challenge to the rule. The protocol was designed to minimize the burden on those collecting the data, while still meting the EPA's thresholds for acceptable data. This position and draft sampling protocol has been submitted to EPA for its comments. A sample of how to collect data for submittal to EPA has been drafted by Frank Altmayer of Scientific Control Laboratories.

The Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA) is also unhappy with the ruling. Rich Sustich, assistant director of research and development for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, spoke on behalf of the agency's position at the AESF/EPA Conference in Orlando, FL. His edited comments follow.

"On behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to get away from the frozen tundra of Chicago. You'll be glad to know that we did have the snowiest December on record this season. While most of you may not know it, I was the second choice to address this group. I'd like to apologize for Guy Aydlett, chair of AMSA's Pretreatment and Hazardous Waste Committee, who is unable to be here today. However, you will be glad to know that Guy is at AMSA's winter meeting in San Diego and, at this very moment, is mobilizing POTWs around the country to provide comments to EPA on the Metal Products and Machinery Rule. And make no mistake about it, at this point in the saga of the Clean Water Act, the POTW community sees this rule as inefficient, ineffective and, in fact, completely unnecessary.

"When Christian Richter (President of The Policy Group) first asked me to address this plenary session a few weeks ago, I had just landed in Washington DC for a meeting with EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assistance on the future role of compliance assistance. It just so happened my flight was on United Airlines, which had a wonderful, but not unexpected, celebration of the dawn of the true new millennium in its Hemispheres magazine with a series of articles on the future of science fiction writing as a force to shape our human future. This gave me cause to ponder where the day's meeting with EPA and other partnership efforts both with EPA and industry might lead us over the next 10 to 20 years. The road ahead for us is neither well marked nor straight, but it is well worth taking. At the same time, it doesn't take an expert meteorologist to see the storm clouds on the horizon in the form of the MP&M rule.

"When the MP&M rule appeared in the Federal Register earlier this month, I kept seeing Bill Murray as the TV reporter in the film Groundhog Day. You may remember he was trapped in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on Groundhog Day, doomed to repeat that day over and over again until he got it right. Well, I would suggest to you that MP&M is indeed EPA's groundhog, and they still haven't gotten it right. In fact, from AMSA's viewpoint, the MP&M rule can never be right because it really isn't necessary at all!

"The whole concept of nationally applicable effluent guidelines first emerged in the Clean Water Act nearly 30 years ago. Anyone who has taken the time to review the Congressional record surrounding the Act, and believe me it does take time, would have been struck by Congress' emphasis on creating nationally uniform minimum standards of performance for industry. Why was this an issue in 1972? Because at that time, our nation's waters were indeed in peril, and the state and local responses to the crises just weren't enough. There was no NPDES program at that time, and the National Pretreatment Program didn't even exist as a dream in EPA's program managers' minds. Surely some states and communities had already begun to take decisive action; we in Chicago had already established a local pretreatment program and even had local limits in place. But at the national level, we needed to get our house in order. Starting with the Electroplating Guidelines in 1978, EPA has promulgated effluent guidelines for most every major industrial sector that might be a source of toxics, and certainly everyone in this room. With the General Pretreatment Regulations in 1981, EPA set out the performance standards for POTWs to implement effective pretreatment programs. From the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, EPA took strong enforcement against POTWs that didn't meet those standards. And I can tell you personally how strong that enforcement was, having lived under the dark cloud of an EPA Administrative Order for 6 years.

"But I would suggest to you now that EPA needs to recognize its own success as well as the success of its regulatory partners and the regulated community. That's where EPA has failed the public and us. It's also why some people erroneously think we need another effluent guideline. EPA last reported on the state of the National Pretreatment Program in 1991, using data collected in 1989. In that report EPA identified 254 POTWs that discharged to environmentally impaired surface waters, with 170 of those POTWs having approved pretreatment programs in place. EPA also reported at that time that between 10 and 17% of all significant industrial users across the country were in significant noncompliance, and that 20% of POTWs with significant industrial users in SNC had failed to take any action to remedy this problem.

"Well much has changed since the late 1980s, and that story has yet to be told. Annual discharges of metals to POTWs dropped by 75% between 1988 and 1997. Discharges of cyanide dropped by more than 80% over the same period.

"During the mid-1990s, EPA closed the last gap in POTW environmental accountability with promulgation of the Part 503 Sewage Sludge Criteria, which covered application and other disposal options for POTW biosolids. POTWs, working through the National Biosolids Partnership, have developed a long-range plan to promote and establish beneficial reuse as a national priority. Despite the stringent land application criteria, by 1997, more than 95% of POTWs across the country were producing exceptional quality biosolids.

"Both of these successes are clear testimony to the effectiveness of the National Pretreatment Program. But is this the best that we can do? Surely we have mastered the command and control elements that are the cornerstone of the program. But are there other approaches that offer even greater potential for environmental protection? Where should EPA be going to improve our nation's waters?

"With protective Water Quality Standards being developed across the country, and the implementation of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) for impaired water bodies, we need to accept the reality that the Effluent Guidelines Program of the 1970s through the 1990s will cease to be a driving force for environmental improvement. Sure, EPA has a long road to go to develop effective tools for the TMDL program, and states have to face the daunting task of completing thousands of water body assessments to implement the program, but for the long term, that's where EPA can best focus its shrinking Water Program resources. And EPA will need to tackle head-on the problem of controlling non-point sources if we are to fully meet the goals of the Clean Water Act.

"As for POTWs, we have far more impacting issues to address than tweaking the most effective regulatory system in the country. Combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows and infrastructure protection are high on our list. After all, what good is the best pretreatment program in America if we can't get the wastewater to the treatment works? Within the National Pretreatment Program, greater than 90% of POTWs have already developed technically based local limits to ensure that we meet our permit requirements. With new local limits guidance coming out from EPA later this year, every POTW will have the tools necessary to ensure that its pretreatment program effectively addresses the real environmental issues impacting its community, not a set of numeric standards that fail to relate to environmental endpoints. Remember, the complex ecosystem downstream of your plant and my POTW doesn't really care if you're regulated under Electroplating, Metal Finishing or even MP&M. Bacteria can't read the Federal Register, nor do they care to!

"So what do we need to do now? As I said at the outset, at this very moment AMSA is mobilizing POTWs around the country to tell EPA what we think of the proposed MP&M rule. You, and every other segment of the impacted community, need to do the same. And it can't be a single voice from AESF or NAMF or MFSA. EPA will only respond to numbers, big numbers! Last year we mustered more than a hundred individual comments on the Pretreatment Streamlining Rule, and while EPA hasn't reproposed the Rule, they are listening to what we're saying. For the MP&M Rule, I'd like us to submit a thousand comments!

"With the environmental challenges now facing America at the dawn of the 21st century, we simply have no need for a regulation that, at its best, extracts incremental progress from an already highly regulated community at unprecedented cost, steals precious human capital from those more erstwhile challenges that face us and perpetuates an outmoded approach to environmental protection that threatens to destroy the very partnerships we've come here to Orlando to celebrate."


Not only is industry involved, but also individuals are very involved in fighting this rule. The recent hearings on the MP&M rule that were held in Oakland, Dallas, Washington DC and Chicago were standing room only. These hearings included industry representatives as well as many, many job shop owners and other affected by this ruling. Here are just a few of the comments people have made about the MP&M rule.

Jim Totter, Concurrent Technologies Corp.: "I have seen an analysis that estimates that 75% of shops in the Strategic Goals Programs do not comply with at least one of the discharge limits of the rule. From what I have read of the rule already (60 of 308 pages) I can see one big problem in that metal finishing and printed circuit job shops are regulated differently from captive shops, with EPA's rationale being that the variability of a job shop is greater than that of a captive shop. If job shops are held to a stricter standard than the captive, there is going to a large hue and cry through the industry"…

Steven Cort, Met-Chem: "Our company has been following the progress of the MP&M regulations since their first proposal in 1995. Certainly there will be a lot of disagreement whether these regulations are fair, technically achievable and economically viable. However, we believe that heavy metals are toxic, bioaccumulate in the environment and are persistent and, therefore, it should be everyone's goal to reduce the amount of heavy metals discharged to the environment."

Jack Norman, Envr/Chem Management Services: "The proposed guidelines have a number of significant potential problems for existing printed circuit board and metal finishing facilities in this country. The proposed limits for chromium, copper, lead, nickel and zinc would appear to have been determined by someone looking at the theoretical solubilities of the metals when precipitated by sodium hydroxide. The curves indicate that levels of a few tenths of a part per million can be achieved by simple precipitation using sodium hydroxide. The proposers of this regulation seem to forget that these theoretical minimums are achieved at different pHs and most waste streams in the industry have various combinations of these metals in the waste stream.

"The proposers also do not seem to realize that the waste stream contains various chelates, detergents and surfactants from the many different baths in use in the average metal finishing or printed circuit board shop. These other materials make it impossible to reach the theoretical minimums predicted in the textbook curves in the average industrial wastewater treatment system. The manganese limit is also interesting, apparently the proposers are not aware that potassium permanganate is used in home water conditioning systems to remove objectionable amounts of iron from house water. The amount of manganese leaving the house is going to be in greater amounts than a couple of parts per million, not to mention that the inhabitants of the house are drinking the water containing the manganese. The proposers are also apparently not aware that many facilities use sulfide in one form or another in order to meet the current guidelines for metal removal, metal sulfides being more insoluble than metal hydroxides (check the solubility product constants). Unfortunately, it is not easy or practical to monitor sulfide levels in a waste steam on a continuous basis; one usually monitors the metals and adjusts the sulfide feed to keep the metals under control. This proposal would remove one of the better methods of minimizing metals from the environment and offering no other alternatives. This proposal has the distinct possibility of either driving many facilities out of the country or out of business."

Craig Slanker, Micro Metal Finishing: "On March 8, 2001 U.S.EPA held a public hearing on the proposed Metal Products and Machinery (MP&M) rule at the EPA Region V office in Chicago, Illinois. A capacity crowd, well in excess of 200 metal finishers, municipal water treatment operators, chemical suppliers and interested citizens, filled the meeting hall to share their thoughts on MP&M. Shari Barash and Michael Ebner of the U.S.EPA began the meeting by discussing some of the aspects and anticipated impacts of the proposed MP&M rule.

"During the public comment session, virtually everyone who spoke voiced his/her keen opposition to the rule. The solidarity of opposition to this rule between metal finishers and local regulators is unique in EPA's short history. (The single individual that spoke and did not oppose the rule used the platform to attempt to sell his water treatment technology.)

"Many of the speakers asked for an extension to the comment period of an additional 120 days or more in order to provide EPA with the data it has requested. A member of the audience pointed out that the EPA had taken 10 years to assemble the rule and asked what criteria was used to set the 120 day response period. EPA's stance was that most comment periods are in the 60-90 day range and that the 120 days should be a sufficient amount of time for interested parties to respond. This explanation was not well received by those in attendance.

"One speaker stated that it took the EPA until the end of January to release some of the background documents on which the rule was based. This delay has reduced the amount of time for those who are in opposition to the rule to analyze EPA's background data. It was pointed out that it would take months for MP&M critics to evaluate the thousands of pages in the reports and to properly respond. One of the reports that was most resoundingly criticized was EPA's benefit/cost analysis to the state of Ohio. Several people spoke of the report's serious factual errors that, by the EPA's own admission, are based on assumptions and data extrapolated from national surveys. EPA's estimate that 'only' 199 metal finishing facilities nationwide would close as a result of MP&M implementation was not supported by its own estimate that at least 25 Ohio facilities would close.

"A number of speakers described the enormous costs associated with compliance to the proposed rule. One estimated that because his company only currently generates about 17 lb of pollutants in their wastewater a year that it would cost his facility about $100,000 for each lb of pollutant that they would be have to eliminate.

"Other comments addressed EPA's recommended pollutant discharge limits from 'new sources.' EPA's suggested concentrations for discharge metals for facilities that fall into this category are in the parts per billion range. Numerous individuals stated that these limits couldn't be met by conventional waste treatment methods. It was pointed out that EPA's definition of a 'new source' could include an existing facility that expanded or installed a new metal finishing line. This could make expansions of current metal finishing facilities exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.

"I believe that EPA's estimated costs of compliance to the finishing industry have been vastly underestimated, and that EPA has overstated the rule's benefits. If the rule is implemented in its present form, finishing facilities will find that they are unable to meet the proposed standard. They will either close or move to other countries that show more flexibility. Those finishers that stay in business will be forced to dramatically raise their prices to pay for the cost incurred to comply with the new regulations.

"EPA is requesting comments and data on 43 different topics on MP&M from interested parties. The requests for comment can be found in the Federal Register notice on pages 530-537 (66 FR 424; January 3, 2001). The EPA website has more MP&M information at Comments can be e-mailed to EPA at Or for more information, contact Shari Barash at 202-260-7130 or Michael Ebner at 202-260-5397."