Companies in the coatings, automotive and adhesives industries are bracing for yet another listing of a popular solvent as hazardous.
State regulators are close to listing the solvent methanol as a hazardous chemical under the state's Proposition 65 law, requiring employers that use methanol to notify employees and neighbors of their facilities that they could face harmful health effects.
Methanol is a "wood alcohol" that's used in anti-freeze, cleansing solutions, varnishes, paints and adhesives. But it's most commonly used as a chemical agent to help make other industrial chemicals, like formaldehyde.
Last month, scientists with the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment at the California Environmental Protection Agency released a report saying it is considering listing methanol as a hazardous chemical under Proposition 65. The report cited extensive prior research that has found methanol to have harmful effects on the development of fetuses.
Industries that use methanol and other interested parties have until August 21 to comment on the findings. Then, if requested, the office will hold a public hearing on the proposed listing. In any event, methanol could be added to the list of Proposition 65 chemicals by the end of the year.
For many manufacturers and other businesses that use methanol, its listing as a Proposition 65 chemical will mean only that they have to add another chemical to already existing notices that are published in community newspapers or otherwise distributed to employees and neighbors.
But the listing could have an effect on companies that currently use no other Proposition 65 chemicals.
"For people that don't want to send out Proposition 65 notices because of the negative publicity that generates, they will be motivated to phase out the use of methanol," said Ed Laird, president of Huntington Beach-based Coatings Resource Corp.
Laird said his company currently uses methanol in its coatings. As a result of the listing, Laird said he plans to switch to ethanol, a close chemical cousin.
"The only difference is that methanol evaporates faster, so if we switch to ethanol it will take a little longer for the coatings to dry," Laird said.
Of course, with increasing demand for ethanol as an alternative fuel and a fuel additive, switching to ethanol could become an expensive proposition for companies that use it in large quantities.
Appointee Stirs Business
Some local business interests are concerned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent appointment of Joseph Lyou to fill a vacancy on the 12-member board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the region's air quality regulator.
Lyou, a resident of Hawthorne who serves as executive director for the California Environmental Rights Alliance, has a long history of environmental activism. He previously worked for one of the state's top environmental organizations, the League of Conservation Voters. And, in the 1990s, he helped found the Committee to Bridge the Gap, which has pressured regulators to crack down on cleanup of contamination from the Rocketdyne facility in the Santa Susana Mountains.
It is in this early role that Lyou first generated concern from the business community, especially the Valley Industry & Commerce Association.
"Some of my members are concerned that he hasn't shown enough sensitivity to economic growth," said VICA president Brendan Huffman. "We were hoping that the governor would appoint somebody who would bring more balance to the AQMD board, which has not been particularly balanced of late," Huffman said. He was referring to the recent passage of the 2007 Air Quality Management Plan, which contains several sweeping measures that could have substantial impacts on factories, developers and the distribution sector.
But not all local businesspeople are as concerned. Some say he has demonstrated a willingness to work with business, especially in his role on the toxics management working group at the AQMD.
For years, state law has required employers with at least 50 workers that pay some or all of the onsite parking expenses to offer cash or equivalent transit subsidies to workers who choose to carpool, bicycle or take mass transit to work. The chief aim is to reduce air pollution by reducing the number of emission-spewing vehicles and reducing congestion.
But state officials have not monitored the program, so there's no way to know how widely employers are following or ignoring this law. Only employers with more than 250 employees in the Southern California area have been forced to comply because of a 10-year-old regulation from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Now, faced with increasingly clogged streets, Los Angeles city officials want to start enforcing the law. Last August, L.A. Councilwoman Wendy Greuel introduced a motion that required an enforcement plan and new business tax forms to allow the city to collect information on how many employees businesses have at their Los Angeles facilities.
Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227, or at email@example.com .
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.