sealPurdue News

October 1999

Indiana companies helped with pollution dilemma

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Engineers at Purdue University have shown in preliminary findings that pollution associated with several key Indiana industries could be reduced by more than 40 percent through an employee-training program.

The research is part of an effort to help companies comply with federal environmental guidelines for emissions of styrene, a chemical compound used to make fiber-reinforced plastics for products such as recreational vehicles, boats and shower stalls.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has changed how it estimates the annual quantity of styrene that a company emits, in effect doubling its estimates of emission levels. That could make it more difficult to meet federal and state air pollution regulations, says James R. Noonan, assistant director for education and technical assistance of the Indiana Clean Manufacturing Technology and Safe Materials Institute at Purdue.

The emission statistics for 1998 will be the first to reflect the higher levels. They will be released by state, federal and industry sources over the next year.

At the same time, EPA has proposed a more stringent air-quality standard for the concentration of ozone, a byproduct of styrene pollution, but a court challenge has placed those changes on hold.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management estimates that more than 4 million pounds of styrene are emitted in the state annually. Most of the emissions come from plants concentrated in northeastern Indiana.

Many of the Indiana companies that are affected by styrene-emission guidelines have fewer than 100 employees and lack the engineering resources to cope with the changes, Noonan says. As a result, a consortium has been organized by industry, the Purdue institute and the Greater Elkhart County Chamber of Commerce to research pollution-cutting steps, prove that they work and pay for employee training. The consortium is funded by a $90,000 grant awarded to the chamber last year by the Indiana Department of Commerce.

Purdue engineers recently had some good news for the consortium, which is made up of about 30 companies. The engineers found that factories may be able to reduce their emissions by using a training program that instructs workers on the best techniques for applying styrene-based materials.

The training program was conceived by a national organization called the Composites Fabricators Association, but its pollution-reduction benefits had not been documented until the Purdue engineers conducted tests using specialized equipment built at the institute. The preliminary results were reported at a consortium meeting in June.

Workers who use spray guns to coat molds with a liquid that contains styrene are taught techniques to cut down on styrene emissions. For example, they are schooled in different ways of setting up their work to minimize the amount of spraying needed for the job. They also learn new approaches to spraying in which the individual droplets of styrene are larger, ultimately reducing the overall quantity exposed to the air, and, consequently, decreasing emissions, says Jean Hall, a Purdue engineer involved in the work.

The Purdue institute has been gathering data and conducting tests since March to analyze just how effective the training program is. The preliminary data showed that using the program reduced styrene emissions by 21.7 percent. The training also reduced the overall quantity of styrene needed to do the job by 19 percent, Noonan says.

The combined effect of both reductions is a 42.4 percent decrease in emissions, he says.

Purdue engineers will conduct further tests at the institute's Coating Applications Research Laboratory before issuing a final report, Noonan says. Ongoing changes in the lab will enable institute engineers to study and test new technologies and processes that aim to reduce air pollution without the use of costly emission-control equipment.

"New technology testing and emission reduction verification are vital parts of the consortium's efforts. Technological innovation offers quality enhancement, productivity increases and cost savings, in addition to emission reductions," Noonan says. Research into new technology will improve Indiana's economic competitiveness, he adds.

Styrene, a suspected carcinogen, has been used for decades to manufacture everything from drinking cups to lightweight auto and boat parts. It has been classified by the EPA as a volatile organic compound, meaning it tends to combine with other chemicals to form entirely new compounds. One result is the creation of ozone, a molecule that contains three atoms of oxygen instead of the environmentally friendly two-atom form of the gas. Ozone is a pollutant that is unhealthy to breathe and that may harm vegetation and wildlife.

It should not be confused with naturally occurring atmospheric ozone, contained in the stratosphere, which acts as a filter for harmful ultraviolet radiation.

Source: James R. Noonan. (765) 463-4749,

Writer: Emil Venere, (765)494-4709;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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