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Brexit confusion over ‘solvent abuse’ could send dangerous signals to the industry

Posted by Ian Gallagher on 6th November 2018

Brexit 'solvent abuse'

Confusion over Brexit could be sending potentially dangerous and premature signals to the paint industry which may be labouring under the misapprehension that we have already left the European Union.

This is the view of Warwick-based ACIS, the UK’s leading distributor to the accident repair sector, which is concerned about the increasing sale of solvent-based paint products in the UK which has been outlawed by the EU.

CEO Graham O’Neill said: “There is a continuing rise in the use of solvent-based paint products across the industry, despite the ban on selling these harmful products by the EU which still governs UK regulations. Those companies that are providing solvent-based paint into the industry are breaking the law as it stands – and how it will continue to stand, even after we leave the EU.

“Just because it is European law, does not make it a bad law. Solvents are harmful to the environment,” he added.

ACIS has been lending its support to a campaign to potentially change the law to make it illegal to use solvent-based paints in bodyshops, as opposed to the status quo which only outlaws their sale.

Last year the organisation threw its weight behind the British Coatings Federation’s (BCF) bid to clamp down on the ‘creeping’ and increasing use of non-compliant solvent-based paint products in the vehicle paint and refinish market, despite the fact that their sale has been illegal since 2004.

According to BCF, which represents 95 per cent of the UK’s coating manufacturers, up to 30 per cent of basecoat sales in the UK are solvent-based, representing a significant concern to the industry.

Tom Bowtell, Chief Executive of BCF, said last year: “We have mystery shopped more than 100 distributors to the bodyshop sector and in 25 per cent of cases they have failed the legality test as they were selling solvent-based basecoats for use in general car repair, which contravenes the UK’s VOC Paint Product Regulations (2012 SI1715)”

The organisation had written to the UK’s 200 plus Trading Standards offices, highlighting the issue and the need for greater enforcement. It also reported a number of distributors to their local authority’s enforcement officers when non-complaint product has been discovered.

Graham O’Neill added: “Whatever your political views are, Brexit has thrown a spanner of confusion in the works in that some people assume that all EU regulations are no longer valid. This is both premature and dangerous.

“Currently those who are knowingly using non-compliant paint products for motor vehicle repairs can escape prosecution – what’s more, the chances of them getting caught are extremely low due to the under-resourced regime of enforcement available from cash-strapped local authorities.

“The BCF has been giving advice to the industry, including bodyshops, to make sure all are compliant and aware of the legal exemptions for vintage cars, motorcycles and construction and agricultural vehicles, but many bodyshops still use solvent-based coatings on cars which fall outside of the exclusions.

“As a business, ACIS does not supply any non-compliant paint products and we have strict protocols in place to ensure this is policed. However, more and more distributors are engaging in the supply of these products. Worryingly, there are now several websites where businesses are prepared to sell these products on-line to anybody – including members of the public.

There are now many bodyshops that do use solvents through other supply chains. This is sometimes because they are trying to gain some financial advantage through the lower cost of such products, but can also be due to other practical concerns. Solvent-based coatings can dry faster and allow more volume in bodyshops where they might not have the latest technology as water-based basecoats require special drying equipment. For example, some bodyshops have older booths that cannot dry water-based coatings.

“Obviously, they would not see themselves as law-breakers but they know the chances of getting caught under the current enforcement regimes is minimal – local authorities simply do not have the resources to regularly check. The end result is they get away with it and believe there is no real harm done.

“However, the regulations are there for a purpose and we, and our businesses, all have a responsibility to the environment.