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EPA Self-Audit and Inspection Guide
Organic Finishing of Metals

Table of Contents

Electrocoating: Regulatory Requirements

The Clean Air Act regulates the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (40 CFR Part 60) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) (40 CFR Part 61 and 40 CFR Part 63), and provides specific standards of performance to control emissions from various types of coating operations (40 CFR Part 60). Depending on the solvent content of the coating material used with electrocoating methods, solvents can evaporate and produce sufficient VOC and HAP emissions to subject an operator to major source requirements and Title V permitting requirements.

Painting and solvent cleaning processes are regulated by federal rules that are implemented by state agencies. These regulations limit emissions from operations, such as those coating metal furniture, miscellaneous metal parts, plastic parts, autos, trucks, boats and large appliances. Coating facilities affected by these regulations need to obtain permits, control and monitor air emissions, and submit reports. Use This PCRC Tool to determine which regulations and standards apply to your operations.

Controlling VOC emissions from electrocoating areas can be accomplished in several ways. First, a coating material with a lower VOC content can be used. Second, air pollution control equipment can be attached to the ventilation system to capture VOCs prior to their release into the atmosphere.

As part of the Clean Water Act, Effluent Guidelines and Standards for Metal Finishing (40 CFR Part 433) have been established that limit concentrations of toxic organics in wastewater streams. The organic solvents often contained in liquid coatings used with electrocoating application methods may be classified as toxic organics. These materials can enter the wastewater through the use of rinse water tanks or when cleaning coatings from containers or equipment. However, the use of recycling systems to filter and reuse coatings and rinse waters greatly reduces the possibility of contamination. Actual limits for effluent constituents depend on the size of the operation and the amount of wastewater generated from the facility. If the facility discharges directly to receiving waters, these limits will be established through the facility's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit (40 CFR Part 122). Facilities which are indirect dischargers releasing to a POTW must meet limits in the POTW's discharge agreement. Wastewater streams with concentrations exceeding permit limits will require pretreatment prior to discharge to receiving waters or to a publicly owned treatment works. Pretreatment may include separation of liquid wastes to remove solvents, and settling or precipitation of solid materials. Indirect discharges who release to POTW's must meet limits in the POTW discharge agreement.

Solid and Hazardous Waste
Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), organic finishing facilities are required to manage listed and characteristic hazardous wastes (40 CFR Part 261). Liquid coatings used with electrocoating application methods may contain constituents listed or characterized as hazardous wastes. Materials contaminated with the coatings, such as air filters, masking materials for floors, conveyor system components, and rags or other materials used for cleaning, may require treatment as hazardous waste depending on their formulation. Hazardous waste management (40 CFR Part 262) includes obtaining permits for the facility in order to generate wastes, meeting accumulation limits for waste storage areas, and manifesting waste containers for off-site disposal.

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) requires facilities to notify employees, customers and the surrounding community of certain hazardous chemicals and materials (40 CFR Parts 355 and 370) that are present on-site. Electrocoating operations may use hazardous materials in sufficient quantities to subject a facility to several EPCRA requirements. Facilities may be required to inform the local emergency planning committee (LEPC) and the state emergency response commission (SERC) of the materials stored and used on-site, devise emergency response plans for reacting to spills, and notify authorities of accidental spills and releases (40 CFR Parts 302 and 355). The materials used in electrocoating solutions may also require facilities to submit Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for these materials to state, regional, and local organizations, while disposed volumes of the material may have to be documented on annual Toxic Release Inventory reports (40 CFR Part 372).

Health and Safety
While not directly regulated by EPA, several conditions exist that should be considered when using electrocoating application methods. Workers should be aware of their responsibilities when handling coating materials during equipment preparation and cleaning activities. Workers should also know the risks associated with inhaling the VOC emissions from the coating materials. Finally, workers should be trained properly to avoid accidents and injuries when working with spray equipment, including the probability of electric shock.


  •  Do exhaust air streams have air pollution control equipment attached? Is that air pollution control equipment working properly? Does final exhaust air have concentrations of pollutants below required levels?
  •  Does the electrocoating system produce a liquid waste stream? Do concentrations of pollutants in the waste stream exceed limits established by the facility NPDES permit or POTW discharge agreement?
  • Are solid wastes handled to separate hazardous and non-hazardous wastes? Are wastes labeled and packaged in accordance with 40 CFR Part 262, Subpart C? Are manifest forms completed for hazardous wastes to be shipped for disposal?

Electrocoating: Common Causes of Violations

  • Electrocoating systems apply coating materials which may include solvents classified as volatile organic compounds and/or hazardous air pollutants. The solvents evaporate and may accumulate above limits allowed by Clean Air Act Title V permits. Ventilation and exhaust systems must operate properly to ensure the vapors are removed from the electrocoating area. Air pollution control equipment should be attached to exhaust systems to recover or destroy volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants instead of releasing them to the air.
  • Electrocoating systems utilize liquid coating materials as well as solvent and water rinses which can contaminate water streams. Contamination may occur when replacing used rinse solutions or from accidental spills or leaks from equipment. Contaminated water streams may contain pollutants or heavy metals in concentrations that exceed the limits established by facility NPDES permits or POTW discharge agreements. As a result, effluent, may not be directly released to water systems or to publicly owned treatment works without pretreatment.
  • Electrocoating systems utilize liquid coating materials and rinses with organic solvents which must be stored, manifested and disposed of according to 40 CFR Part 262 if classified as hazardous waste under 40 CFR Part 261.

Electrocoating: Sources of Pollution

  • Electrocoating systems apply liquid coating materials that contain components classified as volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, and/or ozone depleting substances. In addition, the large surface area of electrocoating tanks exposes much of the coating to the air which promotes evaporation of the solvents.
  • Electrocoating systems can generate large volumes of coating material waste. Coating materials may be contaminated by dirt, dust, or other debris that falls into the tank. Coating materials may not maintain uniform consistency of pigments and additives if not properly mixed. Excess coating material is necessary to meet tank depth requirements. These coating materials become waste.
  • Electrocoating rinse tanks produce waste solvents, water, and coating solids if not filtered and reused.

Electrocoating: Pollution Prevention Alternatives

  • Use liquid coating materials with low organic solvent content to minimize the amount of volatile organic compounds that will be volatized and to reduce the volume of solid and liquid hazardous waste created.
  • Electrocoating provides pollution prevention over traditional spray application systems due to the higher transfer efficiency (above 90%), and lower volatilization of organic solvents.
  • Recycle permeate and water rinse solutions, a typical operation of electrocoating lines. Solutions are filtered to separate coating solids and return them to the coating dip tank. “Clean” permeate and water is returned to the rinse tanks.
  • Reduce or eliminate contamination of coatings by enclosing and covering tanks. Surround system with a semi-open structure which allows operation of the process but does not fully expose the tanks to the air and contaminants from the rest of the facility. Securely cover coating tank when not in use to maintain coating purity and prevent solvent evaporation.
  • Orient parts to minimize areas that would hold excess coating material and rinse solutions when removed from tanks.
  • Increase the time a part is suspended over each tank so that excess material runs into the same tank, not subsequent ones.
  • Schedule paint jobs to minimize changing colors in electrocoating equipment. Paint with light colors first, then darker ones; lighter coating does not need to be completely removed from the equipment, but can blend into the darker coating. Since most electrocoating lines apply only one color, this is typically not an issue.
  • Clean electrocoating equipment regularly to prevent coating materials from drying inside tanks and fluid lines. Use water in cleaning steps to reduce the amount of organic solvents used and amount of hazardous waste generated. Perform initial cleaning with used solvent, saving fresh solvents for final cleaning stages.
  • Segregate non-hazardous coating solids and water from hazardous solvents and thinners, and label containers to prevent mixing. Separation of the materials reduces the amount of hazardous waste that is produced. Coating material solids can be dried and treated as a solid waste, thus allowing for disposal in a landfill.
  • Maintain equipment to sustain proper operation. Keep air lines free of water, dirt, and oils. Make sure valves, gauges, pumps, and filters are in proper working order.
  • Keep electrocoating areas clean so that leaks in equipment can be found and fixed quickly, and accidents can be prevented.
  • Train employees on safe handling of materials and wastes and encourage continuous improvement. Training familiarizes workers with their responsibilities, which reduces spills and accidents.

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