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Auto Body and Collision Repair Shops

Air pollution from auto body shop operations mainly comes from three activities:

These activities generate four major types of air pollutants that might impact human health and the environment, if they are not controlled properly:

  1. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs);
  2. Hazardous air pollutants (HAPs);
  3. Dust (particulates) from sanding and painting; and
  4. CFCs/HFCs from motor vehicle air conditioning refrigerants.

What are VOC's? Most paints, surface preparation solutions, and solvents used for mixing paint and cleaning equipment contain VOCs and HAPs. VOCs are non-water liquids that evaporate. When VOCs evaporate into the air and combine with sunlight, they produce ground-level ozone (otherwise known as “smog”), which can worsen asthma, damage lung tissue, and contribute to serious respiratory illness. Ozone can also damage agricultural crops.

What are HAPS? Air pollutants that have been determined to be quite harmful to humans have been designated by Congress as Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP’s). Some HAPs can cause immediate irritation and harm when touched, eaten, or inhaled, others can cause longer term damage such as cancer, lung disease, skin condition, neurological disease, and birth defects. Some chemicals that are HAPs are also regulated by OSHA and state agencies under occupational health and safety rules. The majority of HAP’s are VOC’s. HAP’s that are not VOC’s are particulates.

What are Particulates? Dust comes from welding, sanding activities (sanding dust) and over-spray from spray painting (painting dust). Welding fumes/dust and sanding dust can contain toxic metals, such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and chromium, and is considered dangerous to workers and people in your community. These toxic metals are examples of particulates that are considered Hazardous Air Pollutants. Potential adverse health effects from dust might be aggravating diseases like asthma and bronchitis. Exposure can come from breathing the dust, getting the dust in food, or bringing the dust home on clothes so others might be exposed.

What are CFCs/HFCs? Air conditioning refrigerants, such as R-12 (CFC-12, Freonâ), and R-134a (HFC-134a), which are found in vehicle air conditioners are also regulated chemicals. In this case the chemicals are chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and hydroflurocarbons (HFC), and are directly regulated by the US Environmental Protection Agency. If CFCs or HFCs evaporate or vent from your shop, they rise into the upper atmosphere and destroy the ozone layer. The ozone layer protects the earth from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The potential increase in the amount of UV radiation increases the risk of skin cancer and other damage to humans, plants and animals.


Controlling dust (particulates) and odor from sanding and painting

If your shop uses hand sanding or mechanical sanders to remove paint and body filler from cars, chances are good that dust (particulates) generated from sanding can travel outside your shop. Refinishing operations as well as welding can also create dust and odors that can be harmful or offensive to your customers, workers and neighbors. You must take reasonable precautions to prevent sanding dust from leaving your shop.

  • Utilize adequate containment methods, such as a ventilated sander, dust collection system, or sanding enclosures, etc.
  • Don't allow any fugitive dust to leave the shop.

Reducing fumes, VOCs, and HAPs from paints and solvents

Surface preparation for auto body work involves the use of solvents for wiping the auto body surface and for removing old paint prior to applying coatings. The solvents often contain HAPs and VOCs. Paints and thinners also contain HAPs and VOCs that evaporate into the air. Because solvents, paint strippers, paints, and thinners can cause dangerous air pollution, state and federal regulations require that you take steps to minimize risks to your workers and the community.

  • Store fresh and used coatings, thinners, and solvents in non-absorbent, non-leaking containers with closed lids and labeled.
  • Keep containers for fresh and used coatings, thinners, and solvents closed (lids on and labeled) at all times except when filling or emptying.
  • Store cloth and paper, or other absorbent applicators, moistened with coatings, solvents, or cleaning solvents in closed, non-absorbent, non-leaking containers.
  • Mix paints ONLY according to manufacturers' instructions. Avoid over-diluting.
  • If you use cold solvent cleaners, only purchase solvents with a vapor pressure of 1 mmHg at 68°F. Check with your solvent supplier to find out the vapor pressure of the solvents you buy. You can also find vapor pressure information on the products’ Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), but be sure that the vapor pressure given is for 68°F.


Efficient Painting Techniques

Use only the following coating application techniques:

  • Any non-atomized application technique (e.g., flow/curtain coating, dip coating, roller coating, brush coating, cotton-tipped swab application coating, electrodeposition coating, etc.)
  • High Volume Low Pressure (HVLP) spraying
  • Electrostatic spray
  • Airless spray
  • Other coating application methods that achieve emission reductions equivalent to or greater than those achieved by HVLP or electrostatic spray application methods. DEQ must approve.

Application Techniques Exempt from regulatory requirements:

  • Airbrush application methods for graphics, stenciling, lettering, and other identification markings.
  • An application of coatings sold in non-refillable aerosol containers; and
  • Application of automotive touch-up repair finishes materials.


Cleaning Spray Guns and Equipment

Be sure to properly clean all spray guns and your spray booth after each coating application. This ensures proper operation and removes leftover coating products from the coating cup, lines, and nozzle. If you use products for cleaning spray guns and spray booths that contain hydrocarbon-based solvents the cleaning waste must be managed as hazardous waste.

You must clean spray guns properly using the approved methods specified under the Virginia Air regulation.

Use only the following methods to clean spray guns:

  • An enclosed spray gun cleaning system that is kept closed when not in use. (Enclosed spray gun cleaning machines use less solvent than traditional methods and reduce spent solvent disposal costs.)
  • An unatomized discharge of solvent into a paint waste container that is kept closed when not in use.
  • Disassembly of the spray gun and cleaning in a vat that is kept closed when not in use.
  • Atomized spray into a paint waste container that is fitted with a device designed to
    capture atomized solvent emissions.

    Your coatings and spray gun vendors may be able to provide advice and suggestions.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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