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New Regulation Hits California Optics Makers

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Kathleen G. Tatterson

DIAMOND BAR, Calif. -- Optics companies in Southern California will have to change dramatically the way they clean their manufacturing systems, according to a regulation recently passed here.
In what it calls its biggest step against airborne hydrocarbons in eight years, California's South Coast Air Quality Management District passed a measure that, among other things, will require area optics manufacturers to use water-based cleaning solvents containing fewer than 50 g/l of volatile organic compounds by the year 2003.
Optics manufacturers in Los Angeles, Orange and portions of San Bernardino and Riverside counties are scrambling to find alternative solutions to comply with the law. "Everyone who has tried to sell me water-based cleaners says they have no product that will work like perchloroethylene," said Greg Lane, facilities manager at Precision Optical of Costa Mesa, Calif., which uses perchloroethylene in a vapor degreaser to clean machinery.
Companies are hoping that the quality of aqueous solutions improves by the time the law takes effect. These solutions should be less expensive, unless the laws of supply and demand take over. "If everyone has to use [the new solvents], those who make them can pretty much name their price," Lane said.
But one thing that definitely will be more expensive is the redesign of manufacturing cleaning systems to accommodate the new regulations, Lane said. Company officials could not estimate cost.

Looking for options
Even before the agency's July decision, OCA Applied Optics Inc. of Garden Grove, Calif., had begun replacing the chemicals it uses with acetone, a volatile-
organic-compound-exempt material. The decision was driven in part by customer demand that the company not use ozone-depleting chemicals in its factory, said Mike Aber, OCA director of safety facilities and environmental management. "Converting to acetone can be expensive, but we can get away with it because we're small," Aber said.
Although the rule affects only companies in certain Southern California areas, manufacturers outside the agency's jurisdiction are watching closely. "There's no established correlation between what happens there and here," said Glenn Sherman, CEO of Laser Power Optics in nearby San Diego, which is not affected by the decision. "But it's close enough that we worry about it. We all have to change a lot of processing in the shop in terms of cost, tooling and training," he said. "It's not a disaster, but it's a problem."

Photonics Spectra
Sep 1997
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