Andersen Corp. has been named a "Success Story" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after dramatically reducing toxic chemical emissions in its finishing operations.

BY LARRY ADAMS

In the late 1980s, executives at Andersen Corp. released a directive to their staff to reduce the emission levels of toxic chemicals. The window and door company, located near the Minnesota/Wisconsin border, regularly used six of 17 chemicals the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies as "high priority" to eliminate. Andersen emitted or had off-site transfers of more than 1.1 million pounds of these chemicals in 1988. Its administrative staff was deluged with paperwork and user fees. What's more, Andersen managers could feel the winds of even more stringent new environmental regulations on the horizon.

In the nine years since then, the Bayport, MN-based manufacturer has reduced its emissions and off-site transfers of six chemicals by 86 percent. Three chemicals -- methylene chloride, methyl ethyl ketone and toluene -- were completly eliminated from Andersen Corp.'s work place. In recognition of this feat, Andersen was recently named a 33/50 Program Success Story by the EPA. The 33/50 Program is a voluntary pollution prevention initiative that targets emissions of 17 high-priority chemicals, including the six targeted by Andersen Corp. The name is derived from its goals: a 33 percent reduction in emissions by 1992 and a 50 percent reduction by 1995, using 1988 emissions as a baseline.

Andersen Corp., founded in 1903 on the St. Croix River boundary of Minnesota and Wisconsin, targeted three main areas for reduction of these chemicals: paint hook cleaning which used methylene chloride and xylene for cured-paint stripping; the solvent-based pretreatment operations for painted parts; and the elimination of TRI- and volatile organic compound-based solvents from its paint operations.

"We have two main painting areas, one for double-hung window products and the other for Frenchwood doors," said Kirk Hogberg, supervisor of environmental compliance for Andersen Corp. "The engineers in these areas took ownership of these projects and were successful in reducing the use of these chemicals. By eliminating these types of chemicals we have a safer work environment."

 

Pella, Schrocks' Also Make

List of Success Stories

Window and door manufacturer Pella Corporation and custom cabinet manufacturer Schrocks' Woodcraft were also named to the U.S. EPA's list of 100 "33/50 Success Stories."

Pella reduced emissions and transfers of 33/50 Program chemicals from 896,300 pounds in 1988 to 151,750 pounds in 1994, an 83 percent decrease. These reductions were achieved primarily by eliminating solvents from adhesives, paints and cleaning processes. As part of this, the company developed a method to reduce and potentially eliminate chromium releases by using carbon absorption to recover chromium from industrial wastewater.

Between 1988 and 1994, Schrocks' Woodcraft, Inc., a custom maker of fine hardwood cabinetry, reduced total releases and off-site transfers of the targeted 33/50 Program chemicals toluene and xylene from 25,427 pounds to 16,350 pounds. This represents a reduction of approximately 35 percent. The company estimates that 1995 releases and transfers will exhibit a 52 percent reduction.

The reduction was attributable to the substitution or elimination of toluene and xylene with non- 33/50 Program chemicals in reducers, lacquer thinners, stains, sealers and topcoats, and an increase in transfer efficiency to the finished product.

Situated in the rolling hills of Walnut Creek in north central Ohio's Amish country, Schrocks' began as a furniture manufacturing operation in 1918, later expanding to include products such as store fixtures and grandfather clocks. In the 1960s, Schrocks' added kitchen cabinets to the line. Today, high-quality custom kitchen and bath cabinets account for about 90 percent of the company's business.

Target Area 1

At Andersen, wood and fiberglass window and door parts were painted using a vertical paint application system. The components were hung from paint hooks and hangers. When these hooks and hangers became coated with paint and needed cleaning, they were immersed in methylene chloride, a paint remover. After the cured paint softened, the fixtures would be rinsed with xylene. This cleaning process released two hazardous chemicals -- methylene chloride (dichloromethane) and xylene -- and created a sludge that would have to be disposed of as hazardous waste.

In the 1980's the company made a number of attempts to replace this system but each trial proved ineffective. In 1992, the company began trials involving a paint burn-off, or "oxidation process," that proved successful. In the system, fixtures are heated and the paint is burnt off, virtually eliminating airborne emissions and off-site releases. As a result, methylene chloride releases which totaled 29,100 pounds in 1988 were reduced to 13,000 pounds in 1992. In 1993, methylene chloride was dropped from Andersen's annual TRI report due to the elimination of the paint fixture cleaning process. Xylene releases were reduced by approximately 50,000 pounds.

Target Area 2

The second area targeted was the pretreatment of fiberglass parts using VOC-based chemicals. "We would pretreat our fiberglass parts with a solvent solution prior to painting," Hogberg said. "This would clean the part as well as make them conductive so that it would accept paint electrostatically."

Andersen began exploring the use of pretreatment solutions containing low or no VOC's or TRI chemicals. Testing yielded a waterborne, zero VOC, zero TRI solution and application process which was developed for fiberglass and aluminum substrate parts. Three paint lines were converted to conductive waterborne pretreatment solution systems in 1994. By eliminating xylene, toluene and other pretreatment diluent solvents, VOC emissions were reduced by approximately 465,000 pounds per year.

Target Area 3

The third targeted area focused on eliminating the carrier and flush solvents methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK), toluene and xylene -- all high-priority 33/50 chemicals -- from its paints.

"We met with our paint suppliers and essentially instructed them to eliminate the TRI chemicals from our formulations," Hogberg said. "It took them awhile, but they were successful."

It took three years to develop these paints because Andersen required a reformulated paint that was going to be applied to its products and be able to withstand all types of weather. Before the company would change, it had to be convinced that the paint performance was as good, or better, than the old chemistry.

In 1995, non-TRI solvents, including methyl amyl ketone (MAK), n-butyl acetate and isobutyl acetate, were substituted in place of the solvents in use at that time. Andersen also installed automated paint mixing and solvent flush equipment to minimize the use and releases of diluent solvents still used in manufacturing operations. The paint reformulation and application equipment improvement projects reduced 33/50 releases by 407,000 pounds.

At the same time, Andersen implemented several internal projects to eliminate the use of diluent solvents and flush solvents containing TRI-listed chemicals. For example, "the company looked at how it flush-cleaned its paint applicators and found ways to reduce the volume of solvents needed to clean them," Hogberg said.

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