Inks and Chemicals — Environmental Challenges
By Erik Cagle
In basic terms, the commercial printing industry has to deal with a new ozone standard set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The standard, previously 0.12 parts per million, now becomes 0.08 parts per million. The back end of the compliance timetable is 2021.
One would presume eliminating 0.04 parts per million over an 18-year span doesn't sound all that challenging. But that breakdown is akin to saying the U.S. government is a bunch of people who take care of things. While true, it is horribly simplistic. The new standard, with its ramifications, is not.
"What it does," says Gary Jones, manager of environmental health and safety affairs for the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF), "is take 55 counties that are considered non-attainment for ozone under the 0.12 standard and expands it to over 330 counties that are now considered out of compliance for ozone."
American industry sued the EPA after it changed the standard in 1997 and the court of appeals ruled it unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court backed the EPA in 2001. Thus begins the tedious and lengthy process of state and local municipalities submitting compliance plans to the EPA, which has identified commercial printing as both a medium point source (larger printers) and area source (smaller printers) in non-attainment areas.
The compliance plans require these areas to establish new regulations that will produce reductions in those chemicals that produce ozone, namely volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which come from solvents, inks, fountain solution additives and nitrogen oxides, which are produced when fossil fuels are burned.
"What it means . . .is we can expect to see more printers subjected to air permits, therefore be subjected to controls, which means they've got to come up with some way to reduce emissions," Jones explains. "We'll be looking at our traditional input materials."
A glimpse at the areas pinpointed for VOC reduction:
* Ink. Sheetfed and non-heatset inks are not a significant source of VOCs, according to Jones. Most heatset web printers already have control devices, and some don't use controls because their emissions are below the VOC thresholds. "We don't know where the EPA is going to set that threshold on a national level...I would expect to see some pressure on the heatset printers who aren't controlled to put some controls on."
* Fountain solution. Those printers not using alcohol substitutes will have to dramatically reduce the amount of alcohol they're using in fountain solutions, Jones notes.
Alternatives are being tested, according to Jones, including Kustom Corp.'s Just Water Technology (JWT) that eliminates fountain solution concentrate and solution additives, and uses tap water as opposed to gum and acid. As a result, there are claims that heatset printers can reduce energy consumption by reducing dryer temperatures, while still maintaining print quality.
He notes the GATF has received a grant from its home state of Pennsylvania to test the system on its new MAN Roland web press. "That would be huge if it was successful," he says. "A win-win all the way around."
Another alternative is Midwest Ink's Hydro H2O inks, which garnered a 2002 GATF InterTech Technology Award for the chemistry that features tap water as opposed to fountain solution acids and glycols. According to Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) results from a March 2002 press run, "color density was achieved equal to, if not faster than, conventional inks. Excellent dot reproduction and trapping was observed."
* Cleaning solvents. This could be a serious point of contention in various parts of the country. The GATF is in the midst of an evaluation in Southern California, where the South Coast Air Quality Management District wants to see printers use cleaning solvents with a VOC content of 10 percent or less by weight by the year 2005. The GATF is pushing for low vapor pressure as an alternative, according to Jones.
"The low VOC cleaners have not met with much success in the marketplace—in general, they do not work effectively," Jones says, noting that the low VOCs are somewhat successful with automatic blanket washers. "The average general commercial printer has had a difficult time with low VOC cleaners, for a variety of reasons."
* Coatings and adhesives. There are several different applications of high VOC containing coatings and adhesives that will be closely examined as a way to reduce emissions.
The new ozone standards could mean substantial changes for those printers who will need to use various substitutes, according to Jones. "Even though a lot of larger printers are comfortable working with them, it's not like taking a 60-watt light bulb out and putting a 40-watt light bulb in. You're changing a basic press chemistry, and that's significant. It may not be difficult for some printers, but it can be horrendous for others. It can be a significant shock to the system from a chemistry perspective.
"If we look beyond that, I don't see a big change in the area of fountain solution, other than going from alcohol to alcohol substitutes," he adds. "People who have been using alcohol substitutes for awhile have been successful at reducing the concentration down to 2 and 3 percent for substitutes. So JWT could be huge."
The Big Picture
The nuts and bolts of the new standard—defining compliance areas, implementation of rules and regulations—will be seen over a large timetable. Among the deadlines, at press time, individual states were due to recommend to EPA the areas that will be considered non-attainment for the new ozone standard. The EPA will study its data and confirm the non-attainment areas in April of 2004.
Targeted cities can opt for an Early Action Compact that would defer EPA rules and regulations if the cities can show compliance with the new standard by the year 2007.
Extended producer responsibility and "beyond compliance" lifecycle thinking have become the focal points as the industry strives toward greater and greater environmental and social responsibility, according to Don Carli, principal of Nima Hunter and author of "Greening of Print," a series of studies that surveys and forecasts "how trends, behaviors and predispositions toward 'beyond compliance' environmental and sustainability practices by Global 2000 companies will impact the printing, publishing and packaging industries." Carli stresses looking past minimal regulatory standards and seek out "beyond compliance" solutions that are sustainable.
"There's a move away from the use of VOCs because of their contributions to global warming and to a variety of health problems in humans, including lung, liver and kidney damage," Carli states. "The general strategy is to come up with cleaner technologies—the reduction or elimination of VOCs. One way to deal with that is through the use of high solids content, UV curable. UV inks print extremely well but are not without their problems, because to cure the polymers a lot of energy is required to power the UV lamps. Photo-initiators, which are used, can pose health and safety risks."
"Another way to reduce VOCs is to employ aqueous inks or single fluid inks," he adds. "While such inks reduce the use of VOCs, there can be printability and runnability problems if rigorous process control is not observed. The flexo industry's been making a lot of efforts to improve the performance of aqueous inks and offset ink manufacturers have been working on single-fluid inks that reduce or eliminate the need for use of dampening solutions containing alcohol that can be washed up without the use of VOC-based solvents. In the solvents arena, there's a move away from petroleum distillates, toward the use of low- or no-VOC solvents derived from soy and citrus and other renewable resources.
"There is a greater attention to product life cycle impacts. Companies like DuPont and Dow Chemical are increasingly seeking to sell accountable services rather than selling products. For example, DuPont does not sell paint to companies like Ford; they sell advanced protective coating services. They take responsibility for the reclamation and reuse of all of the solvents and waste materials associated with the coating process. Ford pays to have cars coated on a unit or square inches coated basis rather than buying gallons of paint and coatings. We may see the same thing in printing over time—printers will not buy ink by the pound or solvent by the gallon. You're buying the service to add a coating or remove the waste products associated with the process."
Carli stresses the benefits of 'beyond compliance' concepts. "Doing more than is required by the law or by regulations can improve top-line growth, profitability, customer satisfaction and other drivers of shareholder value," he says. "For some companies the threat of increased regulatory scrutiny is the motivation for increased social responsibility, and for others it is based on values and beliefs regarding doing what is right. However, for a growing number of companies, a strong business case can be made that beyond compliance environmental stewardship and life cycle thinking are indicative of good management and superior economic performance. The business case for 'beyond compliance' business practices is the driving force behind a growing number of voluntary initiatives encouraging increased environmental stewardship and corporate social responsibility."
If any one commercial printer embodies the 'greening of print' spirit, it is Anderson Lithograph, Commerce, CA. Its sustainability practices reach far beyond minimum/maximum requirements set forth by the federal, state (environmentally, California may be the least forgiving state in the union) and local agencies, and sets a consciousness standard that not only is a measuring stick for commercial printing, but cuts across U.S. industry. A sample of Anderson Lithograph's general environmental sustainability resume:
* Its Commerce plant is a 100 percent enclosed printing facility with near-zero fugitive emissions, as certified by the South Coast Air Quality Management District of California.
* A natural gas-fueled cogeneration facility was opened in 1995. The print facility was modified so that all fugitive emissions generated were captured and fed to the cogeneration plant for destruction as an integral part of the electrical power generation process.
* This year, the company is scheduled to install an $800,000 regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO) to replace its thermal incinerator pollution control device. The RTO will reduce emissions of nitrogen and carbon oxides from the burning of natural gas fuel by 85 percent from current levels.
* Anderson Lithograph achieved a 24 percent reduction in petroleum-based solvent content of its ink formulations through 2002.
The company's ink initiative is part of its raw materials evaluation and monitoring program, says Anderson Lithograph Marketing Manager Rebecca Dake. This program consists of an annual review of all existing "approved for production use" materials to ensure that they comply with all regulatory requirements. Anderson also maintains Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for all of the hazardous materials and chemicals utilized within all facets and departments of the plant for complete record keeping, Dake notes.
"The scrutiny of this program—as designed by Frank Barnett, director of environment health and safety—has allowed Anderson to meet and, in many cases, exceed the ever-changing air quality, health and safety regulatory requirements on raw material formulations," Dake says. "Anderson's successful low-VOC ink and coatings alternative materials, processes and equipment program are examples of the advances in alternative chemical and raw material formulations that Anderson has been able to achieve over the past years as a result of this program."
Dake adds that all conventional lithographic inks used by Anderson Lithograph utilize soy-based oil ink formulations for both heatset web and sheetfed printing operations. Anderson has been authorized to use the SoySeal trademark on its printing.
"We have reduced the average petroleum-based solvent content of our conventional ink formulations from 29 percent to less than 22 percent, utilizing the combination of soy-based oils and other materials that have either none, or substantially reduced, concentrations of VOCs," she says. "This represents a 24 percent reduction of VOC content in our standard ink formulations."
As environmental standards set forth by the EPA, OSHA, state and local governing bodies intensifies, so does the pressure upon manufacturers to comply with the most updated edicts. That in itself can be a tough task, according to Duane Ness, director of manufacturing services for Flint Ink.
"From a health and safety standpoint, knowing and understanding changing laws that affect how chemical constituents of our products must be safely handled by both our employees and our customers is challenging," Ness says. "Many commonly used chemicals have recently been added to state or federal lists that designate them as potentially harmful to human health. When material ingredients are designated harmful to human health, they must be replaced by safer materials or, if that is not feasible, employees must be trained about their possible risks so that those risks can be mitigated with protective personal equipment. Customers must also be informed of these material designations in their product labels or MSDSs so that their employees can be adequately protected.
"Maintaining environmental compliance has forced many of us to increase our emissions monitoring. Environmental compliance affects how we store goods and materials outdoors, and how we properly dispose of waste."
Ness notes that many commercial printers are leaning on ink and chemical manufacturers to reduce health and environmental HMIS ratings on products supplied to them. A number of them have taken a hard line on products that contain Proposition 65 ingredients.
"Many printers are reducing their emissions of VOCs and HAP so they must have ink and press chemical products that are lower in VOC and HAP constituents," he points out.
Ness believes there is an up side to the OSHA, EPA, etc., standards that can have a positive impact on overall ink manufacturing operations. "While there may be initial capital costs associated with the required improvements to keep and go beyond compliance, in the long run, these initial costs will more than pay for themselves in reduced workers' compensation costs, improved productivity/efficiency and reduced waste disposal costs," he says.
Customers often need help in understanding rules and regulations, with variations in how each printer interprets them, according to Jeff Behrens, research and development manager for RBP Chemical Technology. Providing them with chemicals that meet the state and local mandates can be equally challenging, since there is great variance in these edicts from region to region.
"SARA reportables such as ethylene-based glycols and glycol ethers have come under scrutiny, and reducing and/or eliminating them has become necessary," Behrens says. "Some things that have occurred is the dramatic reduction of VOC use in fountain solutions, use of lower vapor pressure type solvents in press washes—which helps reduce flammable and highly volatile cleaning solvents—and the use of safer chemicals to make the working environment safer. The standards have not really changed since the mid to late '90s when the Clean Air Laws/Act was implemented. New VOC regulations were implemented at this time and impacted everybody. The list for SARA reportables continues to get larger, and other minor regulations continue to be implemented on a more local and regional basis. With this we continue to update MSDSs on a yearly basis.
"The changes in the '90s had the biggest impact on how the products were produced and sold. Changes in the MSDSs, the VOC content of products (fountain solutions and washes), getting away from SARA reportables, have all impacted on what we put into our products and how we make and sell them," he adds.
Behrens notes that while customers will come to them with specific requests for chemical content, most customers use federal EPA and OSHA guidelines, which makes it easier for the manufacturer to develop products that will satisfy most needs.
"The other single largest demand that the customer has put on the chemical and ink suppliers is the change to newer technologies, such as unbaked digital plates, new automated press equipment, new and different paper types," he says. "The biggest adjustment we have had to do is to develop new products that meet not only the EPA guidelines, but also the demands of new technologies."