Lawsuit prompts EPA to question boatbuilders on emissions

The EPA contacted nine boatbuilders that operate in several locations as a result of the lawsuit.
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An audit of styrene emissions at boatbuilders could prompt more regulation.

An audit of styrene emissions at boatbuilders could prompt more regulation.

An environmental group threatened to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to review emissions standards put into place in 2001 — a move that has the EPA asking boatbuilders questions that could prompt further regulation in the boatbuilding industry.

The EPA contacted nine boatbuilders that operate in several locations as a result of the lawsuit, which is forcing the agency to execute the second part of the Clean Air Act’s Maximum Achievable Control Technology — or MACT — Standards.

“In 2001 the MACT standards were finalized by the EPA, and boatbuilders had to change over all their processes,” National Marine Manufacturers Association senior vice president of government relations John McKnight told Trade Only Today.

But the second part of implementing the MACT standards was something called “residual risk,” McKnight said, which meant that eight years after the standards were implemented to reduce emissions, they had to be reviewed to see whether there was additional risk in three areas.

That means the EPA is required to review the following in regard to styrene emissions and boatbuilders:

  • Do we know more about the chemical now? “Sort of like how you didn’t know about smoking cigarettes being hazardous in the 1930s, but we know a lot about it today,” McKnight explained. “They want to know the same thing about styrene. Do we know more about the risk?”
  • Is there anything we missed in those original MACT standards? Is there new technology or was there new technology that we need to take into account?
  • The EPA must create a model to determine the risk of styrene emissions from boat plants on the neighborhoods where they are located. “There are lots of different models they can use to determine that, so we’ll fight with the EPA over which one to use,” McKnight said.

Because the EPA failed to do the follow-up review eight years later, a group called Earthjustice sent a notice of intent to sue in 2015. “They said you need to go back and look at all these industries and do a residual review,” McKnight said.

Boatbuilding was the No. 2 industry named among 33 that were listed in the intent to sue.

As a result, the EPA recently sent a 25-page questionnaire called an information collection request, or ICR, to nine boatbuilders that have multiple plants, McKnight said, asking for “an enormous amount of information.” He declined to name the boatbuilders.

Since 2001 there has been growth of closed-molding and vacuum-bagging processes, which help reduce styrene emissions.

“One of the concerns is that a lot of risk is based on concentration,” McKnight said. “And how do you reduce concentration of emissions?”

There are ways to control the concentration, but they are extremely expensive, McKnight said, and the cost is a factor that the EPA will consider during its review.

“The big question getting through this process is,” McKnight said, “was MACT enough in 2001? Has technology advanced that could be applied that could further reduce risk? And is there anything they missed? Or has the chemical changed in terms of how toxic it is deemed?”

McKnight sees this as one of the biggest regulatory issues potentially facing boatbuilders today. So he’s having members of the EPA participate in a session at the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference via conference call on Oct. 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. It’s called “Styrene and your facility: A complicated relationship.”

After he disconnects from that call, during which builders and conferees can ask the EPA questions, members of the Styrene Information Research Council will come in and brief the conferees on the latest research about the substance.

“I thought it would be interesting to tie them both together,” McKnight said. “My goal is to get as many boatbuilders up to speed as humanly possible. In any of these rule-makings I’ve worked on, I try to bring people up to speed. And this one’s a doozy. I don’t want to throw the industry into hysteria, but at the same time it’s important for them to realize we are targeted by EPA because of the chemicals we use and emit from plants.”

“I think if I owned a boat company I’d want to know about this,” he added. “I’d want to know everything about this.”

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