We’re spending a lot of time on it because this is primarily an industry of smaller companies where it’d be harder to operate if people are afraid of the chemicals we use. If the European Union says it’s a safe chemical, we’re determined to prevent the U.S. from labeling it the opposite; it would place a huge, unnecessary burden on small business owners.
What other big issues are you focused on?
There is a California OSHA effort that will update styrene worker exposure limits, possibly next year. We’ve been gathering data and preparing for it in order to decide what our options are. ACMA’s Government Affairs Committee is working to find a solution that would be good for both the industry and acceptable to Cal-OSHA, and of course protective of worker health. From our analysis, the consensus is that manufacturers could reduce emissions from the current 50 ppm (parts per million) to around 25 ppm. Last time Cal-OSHA looked at data, they wanted to apply a safety factor, but that would take a possibly infeasible limit like 25ppm down to around 2.5ppm. So, we’re likely to argue for no safety factor, which would be appropriate because the effects are very mild and there will be serious feasibility problems below 25 ppm.
What keeps the industry from growing?
On the market side, there is a lot of conservatism that keeps the composites industry from growing. As an industry we have a lot more to do to make people comfortable with composites. There are a lot of good potential markets like transportation infrastructure. I also think the possibility of styrene health effects being misclassified is a dark cloud looming over the industry.
Ford’s CEO mentioned he sees no immediate future for composites, what does that mean for the industry?
It’s always been difficult to get in high-volume cars like a Ford Taurus or a Honda Accord because at those volumes, steel is very cost competitive. Niche vehicles are where it makes more sense to use composites, because they’re looking for high-end, light weight material. I’m more interested in how composites can help within delivery, utility and waste management vehicles. Composites can help shed weight, reduce emissions, improve life cycle of the vehicle and reduce fuel consumption. I think buses are a vast potential that hasn’t been pushed yet.
Why hasn’t transportation adopted more composites?
Again, a lot of conservatism; they’ve been using steel and aluminum vehicles for over 100 years. The material is predictable. In their view, taking a risk may not be worth it. They need a push. ACMA has an opportunity to educate federal agencies on the potentials of composites. If we can help them understand that there is a material that will allow them to set more aggressive emission and fuel economy standards, it benefits the industry and the environment. It’s a matter of helping the government and the transportation industry understand there is technology now that allows for lighter vehicles.