Auto shops take a shine to low-VOC paint

TUMWATER — Tumwater Collision has joined a small, but growing, number of auto collision repair shops in the state that have switched to waterborne paints to reduce air pollution escaping from their shop.

The change to a water formulated base coat was voluntary, not required by a state or federal law. But many inside and outside the industry think it's only a matter of time before auto body industry will be required to use paints with far fewer air toxics such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), solvents and heavy metals.

"Sooner or later it's going to happen — the Environmental Protection Agency will make us switch to water-based paints," said Jon Conine Jr., paint technician and one of three new owners of Tumwater Collision.

Air toxics generated by auto collision repair shops have been linked to smog, respiratory problems, nervous system damage, even cancer, according to EPA. The federal agency estimates that if 1,000 collision repair shops implemented environmentally friendly practices, it would reduce air toxic emissions by 3.5 million pounds per year.

Conine, 36 has been spray-painting cars professionally for 18 years. He said the new paint system reduces his exposure to harmful chemicals, cuts air emissions and makes it easier to match the factory paint job, because the majority of cars leaving the factory are coated with waterborne paint.

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