Avoid EPA Rule 6H Penalties

April 1, 2010
Rule 6H paints a new compliance picture for shop operators. Penalties will be steep, but there’s ample time to comply.

Nick Dunkavich, owner of Nick’s Auto Body in Hampstead, N.H., says he’s a nut when it comes to being energy-efficient and thinking green. So much so that he built his own spray booth years ago, equipping it with an overhead door, air filters and ductwork to catch the air pollutants emitted from the paint products he used.

“I’ve been working to trap all pollutants going into the air for some time now,” Dunkavich says about his then-progressive booth. He felt it was “pretty efficient” at protecting air quality.

But Dunkavich’s outdoor spray booth wasn’t energy efficient enough for the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule 6H, which will be required for all repairers by next January. In order to be in full compliance with the new guidelines, he recently spent $35,000 to buy a used one that fits inside his 5,500 square foot shop. It’s taking up valuable space (a shop remodel might be in order soon) and it cost a good chunk of change, Dunkavich says, but the booth’s state-of-the-art airflow system delivers the kind of long-term environmental and energy benefits that the EPA now requires from auto body shops.

Under EPA rule 6H, the agency has effectively made the collision repair industry’s paint stripping and spray coating practices the subject of a national effort to address health and environmental threats.

The 6H rule puts in place new equipment, training and reporting requirements for the U.S. collision repair shops that use paint products containing methylene chloride, chromium, lead, manganese, nickel and cadmium.

Compliance is required immediately for new collision repair centers, and existing shops must comply by January 2011, says Steven Schillinger, a lawyer with EPA expertise.

People, Profit and the Planet

The point of the rule is to improve employee health, clean up the environment, and create a more level playing field. In addition to these laudable goals, complying may also bring a silver lining to your balance sheet: “People will save a lot of energy and money after switching to the new equipment,” Dunkavich says. His new booth draws only 9.4 volts of energy, which he says has cut his electric bill in half, to about $500 per month.

Schillinger, president of the GRC-Pirk Management Co. in Reno, Nev., also points out that the regulation will help protect spray painters and the environment by guarding against respiratory diseases, ozone depletion and increased greenhouse gases.

Another, potentially profitable, benefit? Schillinger says the rule will reduce unfair competition within the industry. Some noncompliant shops have been able to undercut their competition by avoiding the costs associated with practicing environmentally safe habits, Schillinger says. With these new regulations, he says, they will no longer be able to do that.

Motivation to Comply

The penalty for noncompliance can be steep, so collision repair operators will want to understand the 6H rule well. The federal rule calls for a fine of $10,000 per day of violation, Schillinger says. Violations can range from improper equipment or reporting to having an untrained employee. The penalty varies by state. California’s is the most severe, at $25,000 per day.

Shops that are not already fully compliant need to be so soon. The rule officially took effect in November 2008, and newly opened shops must comply immediately. Shops that existed prior to Jan. 9, 2008, have been given until Jan. 10, 2011, to be fully compliant.

Training Tips

Painter training is the area likely to affect the greatest number of shops. Every painter needs two classes to be certified on spray equipment and spraying techniques: a classroom training that describes the 6H rule and its environmental effects, and a hands-on training that teaches painters how to use a spray gun and change filters.

Fortunately, the classes are offered in many places and some are even free, Schillinger says. Classes are offered by I-CAR, spray-gun manufacturers and automotive paint companies.

The EPA offers free classes through various outreach programs.

Training recertification is required every five years, according to DuPont Performance Coatings. New employees must be trained within 180 days of their date of hire.

Dunkavich’s four employees took the classes through the New Hampshire Auto Dealers Association and the Department of Environmental Services of New Hampshire.

“All of the classes were free, and they put together a really good, informative program,” Dunkavich says.

Checklist for Compliance

According to the EPA, fewer than 25 percent of existing repairers will have to take action on rule 6H. The EPA has provided an equipment checklist for shops that aren’t yet in compliance:

• Filter technology must be installed and operated on all spray booths.

• Spray booths must be fully enclosed and ventilated at negative pressure.

• The spray booth must capture 98 percent of hazardous emissions.

• Booths that have seals on all doors and other openings and have an automatic pressure balancing system must be ventilated up to 0.05 inches water gauge positive pressure.

• Spray booths used to coat miscellaneous parts must have a full roof, three complete walls or side curtains, and be ventilated so air is drawn into the booth.

• Spray coatings must be applied with a high volume, low-pressure spray gun, electrostatic application, or an airless or air-assisted airless spray gun.

Paint spray gun cleaning to prevent atomization of hazardous materials to the air is required.

Most shops will require only minor equipment upgrades, but shops that are not in compliance could experience significant equipment costs, Schillinger says. Small shops that have been painting outdoors, or have a homemade spray booth, will need to invest in a spray booth that meets regulation requirements.

Shawn Goldthwaite, owner of Buntings Auto Body in Atkinson, N.H., was one who needed an updated spray booth. He bought a used booth, and slightly expand his facility to make room for it. The booth upgrade and shop expansion cost him about $75,000. While that’s not an insignificant capital expenditure, it’s not bad, considering that used spray booths can cost up to $150,000 and new ones can cost as much as $500,000.

Better Safe than Spot-checked

The EPA hasn’t indicated that it will regularly inspect collision repair centers for compliance, but shop owner Dunkavich is acting like it’s a possibility. So he’s taking every precaution, including renting rags that are cleaned by a professional service.

The EPA plans to inspect shops every four years, Schillinger says, and it has contacted local agencies—fire departments and health and safety departments—to assist with those efforts. While the penalty for noncompliance with the 6H rule is hefty, shop owners who do due diligence have little reason for concern—and every assurance that they and their painters can breathe a bit easier.

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