Wednesday, 28 January 2009 18:35

California Lowers Allowable VOC Content In Automotive Coatings

Written by Nick Bartoszek and Mike Veney, Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes
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Why Water? A White Paper from Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes

As many coatings industry professionals across the United States and Canada are aware, automotive refinishing businesses in California are implementing the use of waterborne coatings in order to achieve compliance with new legislation addressing air quality in that state. Many other states appear soon to follow the lead of these air quality districts in California. This article will outline the changes on tap in California, and look at which states are considering similar regulations.

Key Changes

In 2005 the California Air Resources Board adopted a suggested control measure changing the category definition and allowable volatile organic compound (VOC) content for each of several coating categories. Canadian officials are using these rules as a guideline in publishing similar rules there. The goal of these changes is to make compliance and enforcement easier, standardize definitions across air districts, lower emissions, and to maintain State Implementation Plan approval from EPA.
The new rules targeted full implementation by January 1, 2009 for California Districts including:  South Coast (Sell Through Provision Ended), San Joaquin, Ventura and Santa Barbara.
They will be effective July 1, 2009 for Yolo-Solano and San Luis Obispo; and be effective October 1, 2009 in  the Bay Area.
Here is a web site with all the information,
These new rules have several key changes from current rules in California. One of the most important is the elimination of the “specialty coating” category.
Today, the specialty coating category encompasses a wide range of coatings and additives necessary to complete specialty operations like matte clear coats, flexible primers and clears, and adhesion promoters. Once the new rules become effective, the coatings will fall into a more specific range of categories. For example, a matte clear coat will be considered part of the clear coat category and as such, will have a 2.1 VOC pound per gallon limit.
As with the clear coat, a separate limit now exists for color coats as well. The new color coat category has a limit of 3.5 pounds per gallon.
The new rules also add language that prohibits possession, making it illegal for a shop to have a noncompliant coating on the shelf, whether it is being used or not. Finally, the state has removed the Group I and Group II designation along with the touch up exemption.
While VOC limits for many categories have changed, others remain the same.


One of the misconceptions about these rules is they require the automotive refinishing industry to use waterborne coatings; they do not. However, VOC limits on these coatings are low enough that a waterborne basecoat is the most practical means of reaching the limit. If a solvent-borne color coat was on the market at 3.5 pounds per gallon, its use would be legal.

Adopting Districts

As of May 2008, only the South Coast Air Quality Management District, San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District, Santa Barbara Air Quality Management District, Ventura County Air Pollution Control Board and Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District have adopted or proposed the Suggested Control Measure. It is fully expected that the Bay Area and Sacramento will propose adaptation of these rules shortly, however.
Other jurisdictions outside of California are either in the process of adopting or considering the changes California is implementing. Canada has published a national rule based on California’s Suggested Control Measure with an expected effective date of 2010. The North East Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) is also looking at adopting the California rule. The OTC is a coalition of East Coast states including Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia, along with the District of Columbia. An effective date of 2011 or 2012 is expected. Experts predict most North American jurisdictions will have a rule based on the Suggested Control Measure by 2020.

Environmental Benefits

The California Air Resources Board has projected a VOC emission reduction of 15.8 tons per day, which is a more-than 60 percent reduction from emissions prior to implementation of the new rules. This reduction will help California move towards attainment with EPA ambient air quality standards and make for a healthier workplace and cleaner environment.

Converting The Shop

From a practical matter, how will collision repair shops adjust to this significant transition in how they do business? Assessment will be their first and foremost step to compliance without complication.

California and Canada are on the clock and other states appear ready to follow with VOC-reduction programs that have paint facilities determining exactly what it would take to make their facility waterborne-ready.
While some shop managers fear the worst when it comes to waterborne conversion, many such fears are unfounded.
A better thought for waterborne conversion is ‘Compliance without Complication,’ as we work with our customers to ensure they complete the necessary steps to make a seamless transition to the world of waterbornes. And the large majority of them are finding it far easier than they expected it to be.”

Facility Assessment

The process begins with a comprehensive facility assessment that determines the “readiness” of a facility for a waterborne conversion. That is followed by a waterborne solutions plan of action and a conversion timeline.
“The leading paint manufacturers really help their customers pay attention to in the conversion process is the detail. There are some aspects of such a project that are easy to overlook—and anon-site manufacturers’ presence helps ensure that all key focus areas are addressed.  These focus areas include:

• Air supply and quality. The assessment will help a shop assess its potential need for an air compressor, refrigerated air dryers, coalescing filters, hoses and air couplers. Air Venturis, which are drying from compressed air, produce high-volume airflow which helps waterbornes dry significantly faster. However, the Venturis draw a significant amount of air. The mantra here? Clean air is a must.

• Spray equipment. Coatings’ supplier representatives should review your spray gun set-up and customize a solution. During transitional periods, it will be necessary to operate separate equipment for water and solventborne coatings to avoid contamination, costly redos and equipment damage. A disposable plastic cup system is recommended because it’s corrosion-free, easy to use, expedites color changes and minimizes cleanup.

• Booth air movement. In this case, two suppliers offer custom solutions to the curing of Sherwin-Williams AWX Waterborne coating system. Garmat has developed Accele-Cure™, which uses propeller fans to focus air flow at high velocity directly over the vehicle, thus accelerating the evaporation process and reducing cure time. Advance Cure from Global Finishing Solutions, accelerates and directs airflow using a cabinet-mounted adjustable blower system. Either system can be built into or retrofitted to most properly functioning booths.

• Clean-up and waste stream. Waterborne gun cleaners are readily available and some feature a recycling/reclamation process that turns the paint into solid waste and filters it out of the cleaning solution, which can then be re-used.

• Housekeeping. Using waterborne technology will require a change of habits. Most important is that water and solvent spray equipment be segregated.

• Productivity. The bottom line—the assessment process helps identify opportunities to improve repair processes.
Ultimately, the goal is to help our collision repair customers achieve their productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction goals with waterbornes; to be compliant without complication. With the support of their leading coatings supplier, it’s usually much easier than they think it will be.

For more information, on waterborne coatings and solutions, visit or call 216-332-8528 or 1-800-SW-ULTRA.

For additional information, see Paint Primers, Part 1 through 4, freely downloadable at This material was published in 2008.

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