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Historical Perspective - Auto Body Certification Program

In 1994, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management received the first of two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Region I Pollution Prevention Incentives for States (PPIS) grants for the integration of pollution prevention practices into automotive refinishing operations. Specific PPIS grant objectives included:

  • Research and identification of cost-effective toxics use reduction equipment, methods and formulations
  • Demonstrate toxics use reduction methods and technologies in a controlled environment
  • In association with a leading regional vocational technical school, mentor local body shops and conduct training sessions for practicing professionals
  • Disseminate findings through industry fact sheets and the peer-reviewed literature

To better understand this small business sector, the Office of Customer and Technical Assistance (OCTA), within which the Pollution Prevention Program is housed (note), administered two statewide surveys one in 1996 and a second in 1998 as part of the Department's RCRA Biennial Reporting Requirements. The surveys were multidimensional in that questionnaires sought detailed information on pollution prevention, environmental controls and occupational health and safety practices. Survey findings, for example, showed that a wide range of potential workplace hazards existed and that most shops (60%) employed four or fewer people. Risk reduction opportunities that could be addressed through product substitution or engineering controls were identified and targeted for further research; preliminary findings were published in the peer-reviewed literature (Enander et al., 1998- see references).

Over the course of the PPIS projects, OCTA formed a close working relationship with members of the Rhode Island automotive refinishing industry, vocational training schools, and the Rhode Island Department of Health. A leading, regional vocational technical school became the focal point for technology demonstrations (such as VOC mass balance studies and the use of a new laser guided, high transfer efficiency HVLP spray gun technique), industry training, body shop mentoring, and student curriculum development. By October 1999, EPA PPIS objectives were met and surpassed as new research initiatives, outside the scope of the original grant projects, were already underway. In time, the collaborative among industry, state agencies and a leading technical school, formed a strong basis for all future research efforts.

Note- The RIDEM Pollution Prevention Program is a function of the Office of Customer and Technical Assistance (OCTA). This office is a nonregulatory customer service unit that was specifically created to assist business and industry in environmental affairs.