There are many opportunities to prevent pollution in the operation of auto body shops. This section describes
key processes and the materials used and wastes produced in auto body facilities.
Primary pollutants of concern are:
- dust emitted during
- washwater contaminants from vehicle cleaning
- volatile organic compounds
(VOCs) and hazardous air emissions (HAPs) emitted during painting operations
- hazardous wastes generated
from solvents, thinners, and metal-based paints
Before painting, the vehicle must be prepped. This might include: removing
old paint by sanding or chemicals; the use of fillers; mixing new paint;
removing dirt, dust, etc.; and minor mechanical procedures. Wastes here
- Contaminated washwater
- Leftover filler materials
- Dust (may contain heavy metals)
- Masking materials
- Spilled paint (may contain heavy metals)
- Spilled thinners/solvents (may be ignitable and/or toxic)
- Leftover paint/solvents/thinners
- Spilled or leaking automotive fluids (used oil, antifreeze, refrigerant,
- Shop towels and wipers
Keep Work Areas Clean
By keeping work areas clean and free of filler and sanding dusts, an auto body
shop can reduce the amount of time spent cleaning up and
redoing paint jobs. This can be accomplished by:
- Mixing and using body filler according to container directions.
- Wearing respiratory protection.
- Avoiding metal surface cleaning solvents, especially those based on methyl
ethyl ketone and chlorinated compounds--check Material Safety Data Sheets
- Avoiding use of compressed air blow guns instead of careful wiping.
- Installing a central vacuum system or using sanders with portable vacuums
fitted with High Efficiency Particulate Arrestor (HEPA) filters to catch dust
during sanding operations.
- Using a broom or vacuum instead of water to clean up body repair and paint
Once the vehicle is ready to be painted, the next step is to select the
type of coating material and application method to be used. The application
of paint can generate a large amount of waste due to poor paint transfer
efficiency and the type of coating materials selected. Typical waste from
this step may include:
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs)
from applied materials. Topcoat applications release approximately 55%
of the VOCs emitted during the refinishing process. The high volume of VOCs
released in this step can be reduced by increasing transfer efficiency. This
can be accomplished through training of painters and proper use of High Volume,
Low Pressure (HVLP) spray equipment.
- Over-sprayed paint. Over half of the topcoat material can be
lost as overspray. Improper application techniques waste paint and money.
Paint commonly used in spray booths may be hazardous because of its
ignitability and because of its contents: heavy metals (lead and chromium),
polyisocyanates, and liquid organic solvents. Auto body workers may
develop nervous system disorders, skin and eye irritation, respiratory
sensitization, asthma and reduced lung function from exposure to paint.
- Unused surplus paints from over-purchasing or past expiration dates.
By purchasing only as much as needed a shop can reduce spoilage of expired
materials, save storage space, and encourage wise use of materials.
Paint Equipment Clean-up
Equipment cleaning is required when a painting process is completed, when changing
colors, or during regular maintenance. Typical waste from this step may include:
- Waste or surplus paint (may contain heavy metals)
- Used paint thinners (may be ignitable and/or toxic)
- Waste masking materials and tape
- Rags/towels (may be ignitable due to solvent or paint residue)
- Empty containers
- Paint booth filters (may contain heavy metals from paint pigments)
- Used safety and personal protective equipment (such as gloves and
- VOCs - Paint equipment cleaning contributes approximately 20% of the VOCs
released during the refinishing process. Source:
Pollution Prevention Guides for Auto Body Shops
Some shops perform minor automotive service and repair. Most of the wastes
generated can be reused and/or recycled on- or off-site. Here is a brief list
of wastes generated in this process: glass, metal, plastics, used tires, automotive
fluids (antifreeze, used oil, gasoline, diesel, etc.), used batteries. For
more information, please refer to the P2Rx
Automotive Repair Hub.
General Shop Management
As with any small business, routine operations contribute to a shop's waste
streams. Wastes associated with these routine processes include:
- Office supplies (printer, copier, and fax paper, colored paper, paper cups,
- General packaging waste (wrappers, boxes, etc.)
- Water (toilets, sinks, showers, etc.)
- Energy (electronics and electrical equipment, lighting, etc.)
- Leaking or spilled materials
- If improperly managed, the wastes discussed above can pose a serious threat
to the health and safety of the shop's employees, can damage the environment,
or can endanger the community.
- Hazardous materials and wastes can cause cancer, nervous system damage,
explosions, and air and water pollution.
- All employees should know what materials and equipment are used in their
shop and where the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) are located.
- All employees should know what can and cannot be reused or recycled, and
what can and cannot go down the drain or in the trash can.
OSHA's Autobody Repair and Finishing - www.osha.gov/SLTC/autobody/standards.html