WASHINGTON-A coalition of associations and companies in the automotive service and chemical industries have taken to court their fight over a ban on the use of aerosol brake cleaners. Widely used throughout the auto industry, the brake cleaners were effectively banned last August in a surprise move by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The agency labeled the aerosol brake cleaners a hazardous material that exposes workers to an unhealthy amount of asbestos.
But the non-profit National Brake Care Coalition, based in Washington, claims OSHA acted, in part, after a campaign of ``misinformation'' and ``unfounded allegations unrelated to asbestos'' by competitors of coalition members.
The coalition comprises auto industry trade groups, repair shops and chemical makers. Member groups include: the Automotive Chemical Manufacturers Council; the Automotive Parts & Accessories Association; the Automotive Service Association; the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA); and the National Automobile Dealers Association.
Late last year, the coalition filed a motion in federal court in New Orleans seeking to block the OSHA ruling until the question can be resolved in court.
OSHA's rule change made the permissible exposure limit of aerosol brake cleaners 25 times more stringent than it had been.
Shops may continue to use the aerosols after April 10, when the new rule takes effect. But OSHA said those that do will have to monitor the presence of asbestos to within 0.004 fibers per cubic centimeter of shop atmosphere.
``OSHA had previously listed aerosol cleaners as one of its preferred methods,'' said MEMA spokeswoman LuAnne Hansen.
In many service shops and new-car dealerships, the aerosol cleaners have been one of the most common methods used to clean brakes and clutches. The pressurized spray cans contain solvent- or water-based cleaning fluids. Other methods include vacuuming and a low-pressure bath.
The purpose of OSHA's rule is to protect workers from the hazards of asbestos, a goal the Brake Care Coalition said it supports ``because a significant portion of aftermarket replacement brake parts contain asbestos.''
However, the coalition claims the aerosol cleaners are still safe and effective ``when used as directed.'' The group said the cleaners ``not only easily meet OSHA's permissible exposure limit for asbestos, but they remove oil and grease from the brake assembly, contaminants which can interfere with proper brake repair and affect brake performance.''
The group contends aerosol cleaners have distinct advantages, including they:
are easy to use;
cost-effectively control asbestos dust;
do not require costly or cumbersome equipment;
do not contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs); and
effectively remove oils and greases.
Independent studies, the coalition pointed out, show that exposures to the solvents in aerosol cleaners in typical repair shop operations will be well below safety limits established by OSHA.
On the other hand, the coalition claims the vacuum and wet cleaning systems are expensive to purchase-from $400 up to $3,600 per unit; are expensive to operate and maintain; can halt a shop's operations when they break down; do not measurably improve asbestos control; take longer to use, thus reducing cost-efficiency; and do not remove oil and grease effectively.
An earlier version of the OSHA standards, proposed in 1990, included use of aerosol solvents as one of three preferred methods to control asbestos dust. At that time, the Brake Care Coalition said, OSHA acknowledged that further control on aerosols would achieve a ``de minimis reduction in [asbestos] exposure.'' But the final standard no longer lists aerosols as preferred.
According to coalition estimates, more than 50 million cans of aerosol brake cleaners are used by shops annually. The cost to the auto repair industry to stop using the aerosol cleaners and turn to other methods would be from $170 million to $1.5 billion.
OSHA estimates about 214,000 of the country's 330,000 repair shops would have to buy new equipment to adopt one of the alternative methods.