ECU expert to discuss boat foam in DC
(Oct. 7, 1993)
An East Carolina University administrator will address a public hearing in Washington, D.C., next week, on an issue that could sink the recreational boat building industry.
The issue is foam. More precisely, it is about the closed-cell rigid polyurethane foam used to make boats safer and stronger.
Dr. A. Darryl Davis, dean of the ECU School of Industry and Technology, will address the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing Oct. 12. The hearing is on proposed rules that could determine whether the industry can continue to use these materials after Jan. 1994.
Davis, a Carteret County native, is an authority on manufacturing boats and other fiberglass products. He said he will urge the EPA to temporarily exempt, for two years, the floatation foam used by boat builders in order to allow development and testing of suitable alternative foam products or alternate technologies.
The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 propose to ban the sale and distribution of certain aerosol and foam products that damage the ozone, beginning Jan. 1, 1994. The ban, however, provides exemptions for “foam insulation products” and the foam used to help automobiles meet federal safety standards.
The “foam insulation products” exemption is where the issue gets sticky. The proposed EPA rule exempt most types of foam products as a class of materials because they are thermal insulators. This exemption would apply even if the foam was not used for insulation purposes. On the surface this appears to be good news to boat builders because it would permit them to continue the use of tried and proven foam products until 2003.
A concern, according to Davis, is that after public hearings and comment the EPA could choose to exempt only foam products used specifically for thermal insulation. Davis and other in the boating industry are troubled by the proposed rule.
“We are not comfortable with this definition,” Davis said. He said that he and most others in the marine industry support the continued use of foam flotation for obvious safety purposes.
“Although the proposed rule exempts foam, the exemption is for the wrong reason,” he said. David said he would prefer to see an exemption that gives the same consideration to the safety of boaters as it gives to the people who buy automobiles.
ECU hosted a meeting Sept. 23 in Greenville on the foam issue. The meeting drew boat builders, foam manufacturers, the Coast Guard and EPA officials and representatives from the National Marine Manufacturing Association and the American Boating and Yachting Council. The meeting was sponsored by the ECU Center for Applied Technology.
The environmental problems in certain foam products is a gas containing hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). The gas is believed to damage the Earth’s ozone but HCFCs are not nearly as bad as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which were banned last January.
Boat manufacturers inject foam containing HCFCs into air cavities of most recreational vessels. The foam expands and hardens to toughen the structure of the vessel and to make the boat meet floatation requirements for Coast Guard certification.
Although some new and environmentally safe foam products are appearing on the market, the boat builders are unsure of the long-term effectiveness of the new products, according to Davis. He said manufacturers want to be sure the foam sticks to fiberglass and holds up to vibration, moisture, hull cleaners and engine fuels.
There are other concerns other the