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AQMD goes after paint fumes

The district votes to charge makers a fee to boost monitoring.

June 07, 2008|Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writer

Ah, the smell of a freshly painted room -- it could make you sick.

Paint fumes are a key ingredient in the dangerous smog still plaguing Southern California, local air regulators say, and paint companies should have to pay for the monitoring of hazardous materials in their industry.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District board voted 8 to 1 on Friday to charge the manufacturers of paint, varnishes and other such coatings a per-ton fee for their products.

Officials said that would add about seven cents to the price of a gallon of paint.

The funds will be used to hire additional inspectors and chemists to check for illegally high levels of volatile organic compounds, which have been linked to increased cases of asthma and other respiratory problems.

Only one inspector now monitors the 15,000 stores, manufacturers, distributors and licensed contractors who sell paint in Southern California.

But representatives of Los Angeles-based Dunn-Edwards Paints, Sherwin-Williams and other producers said the fees unfairly paint them into a corner while exempting everyone else.

"Some 200 manufacturers are going to be required to pay for additional staff to [monitor] an additional 14,800 sources," said Geoffrey Margulies, an attorney representing the National Paint & Coatings Assn. He and others said the fee should be charged directly to retailers and consumers.

They said that even if paint is manufactured in accordance with Southern California's tough requirements, distributors and contractors sometimes illegally dilute it.

Robert Wendoll, manager of environmental affairs for the company, said industry groups might sue to stop the regulation, which will be phased in over three years.

Wendoll said most paints are now water-based rather than oil-based, meaning that fewer hazardous organic compounds are used.

But environmentalists cheered the news, noting that paints and wall coverings -- which still emit more than 23 tons a day of volatile organic compounds -- are the single largest source of such emissions within the district, topping even gas stations and refineries.

"This is more than a fair request," said James Provenzano, president of Clean Air Now. "The cost is minimal to the manufacturers, but the reward is invaluable to the public at large."

Recycled paints -- which are blended from leftovers and remainders -- will be exempt from the fees.

Orange County Supervisor Bill Campbell cast the lone vote against the regulation.

He said fines from paint firm violators should pay for enforcement and that he didn't think the need for additional inspectors had been studied closely enough.


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