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Ballyhooed Irvine 'Ban' on CFCs Not So Clear-Cut

April 21, 1990|JONATHAN WEBER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

But many companies, in Irvine and elsewhere, are moving to cut CFC use even in the absence of legal requirements. They are motivated by a dramatic rise in CFC prices and, in the case of the electronics industry, harsh criticism for increasing CFC use in the early 1980s, after the dangers were known.

Medical equipment vendor Bentley Laboratories, the largest CFC emitter in Irvine according to Environmental Protection Agency figures from 1988 (the latest available numbers), is exempt from the Irvine ban because it makes FDA--regulated devices--though it will have to install some CFC recycling equipment.

Still, the company says it has reduced its CFC output from 350,000 pounds in 1987 to 89,000 pounds in 1989, and projects just 50,000 pounds of emissions for 1990.

"We've had an aggressive corporate policy of reducing CFC emissions, at Bentley and elsewhere," said Geoffrey Fenton, a spokesman for Bentley's parent firm, Baxter International. "It's not directly related to Irvine--it would have happened anyway."

Shiley Inc., which also makes medical products and is the city's second-largest CFC emitter, is in a similar situation. Spokesman Robert J. Fauteux said the company had made large cuts in CFC use in 1987 and 1988.

Fauteux noted that Shiley had publicly supported passage of the Irvine ordinance, and said the firm would be spending $500,000 on equipment for the recycling of CFCs used in sterilizing medical equipment. He could not provide a figure on the company's current emissions.

Hughes Aircraft Co.'s Connecting Devices Division, another large CFC user, is exempt from the Irvine ordinance because it is a defense contractor. Military specifications requiring CFC use takes precedence over the local law. Defense contractors, including Hughes, have pledged to work with the Pentagon to eliminate such requirements, but that is expected to take some time.

Still, Hughes says it has been spurred to action by the Irvine law. A Hughes spokesman said the division is researching both substitute chemicals and product modifications to cut the 17,000 pounds of CFCs and the 18,000 pounds of methyl chloroform that it emits each year.

Parker Hannifin, another Irvine defense contractor, "started looking (for CFC alternatives) before the ordinance was passed," according to environmental manager Kevin Clarke. The company has succeeded in finding alternatives for some applications, but will also be applying for an exemption, he added.

Some Irvine companies have avoided CFC trouble by thinking ahead. Western Digital once used more than a million pounds of CFCs annually to clean printed circuit boards. Alex Alexander, vice president for board engineering operations, said the company began the search for alternatives several years ago.

"You had to have your head in the ground not to see that these chemicals would be regulated out of existence," Alexander said. The company undertook a program to perfect a soap-and-water washing system that can clean the boards by using a high-pressure water spray in conjunction with a specially developed, water-soluble soldering paste.

The system was put in place at all Western Digital plants around the world in January, 1989, Alexander said, well before the Irvine ban was passed. The company still uses some methyl chloroform in one of its chip-making operations, but it is mostly transformed into a harmless substance by the process itself.

The remaining emissions of methyl chloroform fall well within the 55-gallon " de minimus " exemption that is contained in the draft regulations on the Irvine ordinance. Brown noted that the de minimus rule was meant for "small users, not small uses," but Western Digital will benefit all the same.

Agran acknowledged that all the signs pointed to CFC cutbacks even without prodding from municipalities. Still, he said, "industry (officials) would not be moving as quickly as they are without pressure."

Small businesses may have more trouble coping with the Irvine rules. Commercial air-conditioning and appliance-service companies will have to invest in coolant recycling equipment, which Brown said would cost auto air-conditioning service shops $2,000 to $3,000 and commercial air-conditioning service firms $3,000 to $4,000.

(Residential air-conditioners use a type of coolant that is not affected by the Irvine law.)

The biggest problem for these companies may be the lack of detailed information of what is expected of them. Robert Vlick, service manager for Air Conditioning Co. Inc. in Glendale, one of the largest air-conditioning service firms in the state, said 14 of the company's 110 trucks were already equipped with recycling equipment.

"We're completely capable of doing what needs to be done," he said, "but at this point we have no information on what we need to do in Irvine."

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