1999 VOC Rules for Architectural and Maintenance Coatings

by Rick Trudell Jr., CSI, CDT, Hallman/Lindsay Paints


category limits apply to the VOC content that would result after thinning 

VOC Restrictions for FIeld-Applied Coatings 

Products affected by new rules 

 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has enacted new rulings that are in place to reduce the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in our atmosphere. VOCs are organic compounds that evaporate easily at room temperature. VOCs are present in most liquids including gasoline, paints, inks, glues and adhesives, hairsprays, insecticides, household cleaners and even shaving cream. The EPA has required that manufacturers of chemical products reduce the VOCs in their products. EPA Citation # 40 CFR Part 59 titled the “National Volatile Organic Compound Emission Standards for Architectural Coatings" contains new VOC limits for architectural paints and coatings. This rule is also known within the industry as the AIM (Architectural and Industrial Maintenance) rule. The rule is based upon the EPA’s determination that the VOC emissions from the application of AIM coatings have the potential to cause or contribute to ozone levels that violate the national ambient air quality standards for ozone. Ozone is a major component of smog. Smog causes negative health and environmental impacts when present in high concentrations at ground level. The EPA, by enacting the AIM rule, estimates that VOC emissions will be reduced by 113,500 tons per year. The rule affects architectural coatings that are recommended for field application to stationary structures and their appurtenances, to portable buildings, to pavements, or to curbs.

In 1990, Congress, through one of the amendments to the Clean Air Act, instructed the EPA to control VOC emissions. This program directs the EPA to list and schedule, categories of consumer and commercial products for regulation. Before this rule, emissions from the application of architectural coatings were not regulated at the Federal level. Although a few States have had architectural coatings regulations in place for a number of years, many state and local authorities had been waiting for the national regulations to be in effect. Architectural Coating Industry representatives have noted that a federal rule would provide some degree of consistency, predictability and administrative ease for the industry. Currently, 14 states are depending upon the anticipated reduction of emissions from this new rule to achieve their goal of reducing VOC emissions by 15 percent.

Not all paints and coatings are affected by this rule. Paints and coatings that are recommended by the manufacturer solely for shop applications or solely for application to non-stationary structures such as airplanes, ships, boats and rail cars are exempt from this rule. The new rule also does not apply to the following architectural coatings:

  • Coatings manufactured exclusively for sale or distribution outside the United States

  • Coatings manufactured before September 13, 1999;

  • Coatings sold in non-refillable aerosol containers;

  • Coatings that are collected and redistributed at paint exchanges;

  • Coatings sold in containers with a volume of one liter or less.

This new rule affects all paint and coatings products, including stains and varnishes, primers, flat and non-flat finish coats, traffic and zone marking paints, chalkboard resurfacers and HIPAC coatings. Coating manufacturers and importers must classify and register their coatings as belonging to at least one of the EPA’s 61 coatings categories. The new category limits apply to the VOC content that would result after thinning a coating according to the manufacturers maximum thinning recommendations. Labeling instructions now require manufacturers to include the date of manufacture of the product, and a statement regarding the thinning of the product. The label also must list the VOC content of the coating in the container or include a statement of compliance. Industrial coatings must be labeled with one of several prescribed phrases indicating that the coating is not intended for general consumer use.

Other awareness programs are being born out of this new rule. Paint recycling and exchange programs are being created at local levels. The EPA encourages and rewards those manufacturers who participate in paint recycling programs.

In the situation where a manufacturer or importer cannot reformulate an existing product to meet the limits, two mechanisms are in place to allow the manufacturer to continue to produce their product. The first is the Exceedance Fee compliance option. Manufacturers and importers may choose to comply with the rule simply by paying a fee in lieu of meeting the VOC content limits for their particular coating product. The fee that is paid to the EPA is paid on a per liter basis. The current fee averages to be $ 2,500.00 per ton. The second mechanism in place is a Tonnage exemption that allows manufacturers and importers to sell or distribute limited quantities of architectural coatings that do not comply with the VOC content limits without having to pay the exceedance fee. The tonnage limit per manufacturer begins at 25 tons for the period between 9/13/99 and 12/31/00. The limit is reduced to 20 tons for the year 2001 and is further reduced to 10 tons per year thereafter.

With the industry moving towards safer and easier to use products, the AIM rule will have little impact on the majority of manufacturers and importers of paints and coatings. The paint and coatings industry manufacturers and importers were aware of the proposed changes a number of years ago and have been continually improving and reformulating their products. Results of reformulated products are High Solid Alkyd products, Low Odor, Low to Zero VOC products, flammable products being replaced by combustible products and combustible products being replaced with waterborne products.

The new AIM rule creates limits that are achievable using today's technology. Multiple roundtable discussions with industry executives, representatives and researchers were held to jointly establish the new limits. The rule targets the manufacturer and importer of coatings, not the applicator or retailer of paints and coatings. The rule allows existing, non-compliant inventories of coatings to be used for their intended purpose, not to be wasted and disposed of. The rule also contains mechanisms for the manufacture of non-compliant coatings in the case of a coating emergency. This is a win-win scenario for the paint and coatings industry.

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