April 5, 2021
In March, CPCA made a substantial submission on the federal government’s intent to change the VOC limits for architectural and industrial maintenance (AIM) product categories sold in Canada. There are several areas which will be technically problematic and could be very disruptive for the Canadian coatings sector. No paint and coatings company in Canada can ignore the upcoming challenges these new limits could impose. As such, CPCA recently consulted with member companies again to update the federal government on the challenges before the paint industry in this country. Earlier this year, CPCA provided members with a questionnaire that included a detailed description of the new VOC limits for SCAQMD, CARB 2019, and OTC II, and how they compare with the current limits in Canada for all categories.
Early in 2020, the federal government presented the results of a study they had commissioned comparing the actual VOC content in products sold in Canada with CARB 2019, SCAQMD limits, and the OTC Phase II VOC limits. It assessed total VOC emission reductions expected from the AIM sector pursuant to the adoption of either US model. At the time, CPCA recommended a phased-in adoption of OTC Phase II limits to avoid a hybrid regulatory model. It was also noted adopting US rules in Canada would mostly impact specialty products that serve specific functionalities in the preservation of public infrastructure, transportation and other critical assets. Canadian SMEs would have a much more difficult time complying with stricter limits than multinationals or US-based companies with extensive research and development capacity for products already destined for the Californian market, under CARB limits. In effect, they would already be compliant.
CPCA was specifically asked to provide more detailed technical information on behalf of the Canadian coatings industry for the categories most likely to be impacted. A questionnaire was sent to all CPCA AIM members in January 2021. CPCA made it clear to government that many SMEs were not fully aware of the impacts of lower limits being applied in Canada because they have not yet had to deal with challenges in complying with OTC Phase II limits, as some larger member companies have in the United States. However, CPCA was able to obtain significant technical feedback on the main categories believed to be of most concern to industry, as well as estimates of what might be acceptable implementation deadlines should government proceed with the new AIM VOC limits.
One of the key recommendations made by the Canadian coatings industry was the need for the federal government to take into consideration that Canadian SME operations will require more time to cope with new VOC limits. And, must account for the already low VOC limits used in the majority of water-based products. This is especially the case for the strict California VOC limits, as well as the time needed to reformulate products to meet new specifications. In light of the obvious challenges for the Canadian economy over the past two years, such an initiative will place greater strain on SMEs who may have to abandon successful product lines or shut down completely. This would not be good for the Canadian economy as it struggles to rebound from a very challenging year and replenish revenues and job losses throughout the pandemic.
CPCA members identified 22 product categories that are particularly problematic should the federal government move forward with new VOC limits based on CARB 2019. Several of these are briefly described below. Significant challenges will ensue for specialty products applied in a Nordic climate especially related to latex and alkyd-based coatings. There must be more attention paid to the lifecycle of products in a Canadian climate, which exposes coatings to low temperatures, salt, high humidity, and degradation by rain and snow. In particular, this applies to all solvent-based product categories such as rust preventative coatings, solid stains, primer, floor enamel, driveway sealers, and concrete sealer. They will all be extremely difficult to reformulate under the new limits without losing significant product performance.
The most impactful technical difficulties associated with CARB and SCAQMD limits strongly suggest that Canada should first adopt OTC Phase II limits rather than CARB 2019. CPCA re-emphasized the fact that only six states in the US have adopted OTC Phase II rules as of the end of 2020. Additionally, only four California districts have adopted the 2019/2020 SCM and most of these California district rules include a coming-into-force date of January 1, 2022. The adoption of CARB 2019 limits in Canada would put Canadian companies ahead of the vast majority of US neighbor States, which would cause significant disruptions to cross-border trade. It may also lead to increased cross-border retail trade, i.e., Canadian buyers (consumers, contractors) crossing to US neighbor States to purchase products with higher VOC limits to achieve the performance characteristics customers have come to expect, especially related to the safety benefits.
Even multinational companies based in Canada, and shipping to Canada, want their business to thrive. Multinationals, both US and Canadian, represent the major portion of AIM coatings sold in Canada and they are always striving to meet the lowest North American VOC limits in their product offerings. However, even the largest companies, operating large production lines, have had to make concerted efforts to meet Canada’s existing VOC limits. It won’t get any easier with new limits imposed.
In the US, CARB VOC limits have been accommodated industry concerns in product categories such as Industrial Maintenance, Zinc Rich Primers, Metallic Pigmented, Rust Preventatives, Concrete Cure, and Graphic Arts coatings. Limits in these categories cannot be lowered any further without negative consequences related to both safety and life-cycle challenges, which will increase emissions somewhat rather than lower them. These coatings are critical to protecting and extending the life of infrastructure exposed to the extremes of Canadian climate such as freezing temperatures, salt spray, and high humidity. The industrial maintenance category is very important for the protection of water and wastewater treatment plants, pipelines, wind turbines, bridges, and high-performance exterior metal surfaces subject to corrosive atmospheres. The proposed 100 g/L limit for the industrial maintenance category is not feasible for these applications. These require high-performance products that cannot simply be switched to water-based technology without sacrificing key performance characteristics that will ‘not’ decrease users’ environmental footprint. Imposing realistic VOC limits, without impacting the performance of the product, will thus lead to ‘more’ environmental benefits because the substrates that are being coated with a slightly higher VOC product will not have to be re-coated or touched up as often. In the long run, this is more sustainable than a lower-performing coating developed solely to meet strict VOC limits requiring re-coating more often.
CARB 2019 limits have an effective enforcement date of January 1, 2022, in the United States (3-years later). The federal government should provide the AIM sector of the Canadian coatings industry – and especially SMEs – with several years to comply with California rules. Better yet, wait, for the OTC States to develop their OTC Phase III rules (based on 2019 SCM) ‘before’ adopting these lower limits. CPCA member companies, and the entire industry, in fact, are deeply concerned that by fully endorsing CARB limits now, the performance of many niche product categories in Canada will be negatively affected while bringing insignificant emissions reduction, overall lower productivity, and higher economic losses. The federal government must recognize that the 22 product categories highlighted in the CPCA questionnaire would offer minimal VOC emission reduction benefits but come at high development costs for all CPCA members, including SMEs. The recent VOC study report on new limits largely under-estimated the related costs and over-estimated the emissions reduction, based on California data.
CPCA remains hopeful that industry’s efforts to meet and exceed VOC limits, imposed over the last decade, will not go unrecognized. In a period of just over 5 years from 2014-2019, the Canadian architectural sector achieved VOC reductions in the order of 4.3 Kt or nearly 30%, all under the current AIM regulation. Those numbers are based on an Environment Canada own study. Industry is puzzled as to why the stricter CARB 2019 limits are now being considered when industry has continued to make excellent progress. In addition to the current AIM VOC regulation, member companies have taken it upon themselves to reduce VOC emissions in many products independently from heavy regulatory efforts, and in response to consumer expectations of waterborne formulations. These expectations are here to stay and will lead to lower VOC consumer products in future as new technologies are developed and applied. This must be recognized and factored it into government decision-making when considering the imposition of further VOC limits in Canada.
Regulations need to be based on evidence-based decision-making, not political imperatives to show that every sector is contributing to the larger emissions reduction pot, however insignificantly, especially when they are more harmful than helpful to the environment. The Canadian coatings industry believes in sustainability and has proven that over time with more than 94 percent of architectural coatings moving from solvent to water-based formulations over the past 15 years.