More opposition has emerged to AB 1824, a controversial California bill that would ban the use of holding tank products containing six specific chemicals – bronopol, dowicil, formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, paraformaldehyde and paradichlorobenzene.
To date, Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Thetford Corp., a manufacturer of holding tank chemicals for both the marine and RV markets, had been the only vocal opponent to the proposed legislation.
Now, Dometic Corp., Elkhart, Ind., a Thetford competitor, would specifically like the inclusion of bronopol pulled from the bill, and the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) has stepped up to oppose the bill in its entirety.
RVIA’s position is apparently similar to that of Thetford’s in that both are asking the state of California for better science – more proof – that these chemicals are fouling up septic systems in the state. Thetford contends that use patterns – the fact that many people often dump holding tanks in a short period of time – is a more serious root cause of septic system problems.
“We do not feel that we have been shown any science that shows that the six chemicals that are being banned are going to address the problem,” said Diane Farrell, RVIA vice president of government affairs. “It seems like a remedy and yet we have not seen the right data pointing us to the problem at hand. California is a leader in the green movement, and one of the premises of that is to get chemicals into the hands of the scientists and this seems to be avoiding that process.”
The bill is moving swiftly, having passed out of both the Senate Toxics and Environmental Quality and Appropriations committees in the last two weeks. Next it goes to the full Senate and then, if it passes, to the California governor’s desk for a signature. Estimates are that that could happen by August or September at the latest.
Meanwhile, one of the most ardent proponents of the bill, the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), is unswayed by RVIA’s opposition and Dometic’s request to pull bronopol from the bill.
“Dometic has put a letter in opposition suggesting that bronopol be pulled from the bill and that is when we had to dig deeper into the science,” explained Debbie Sipe, executive director for CalARVC.
According to Sipe, the California Department of Toxics and Substance Control has looked into this question, but is coming up with inconclusive results. So, CalARVC will continue to support the bill as it stands.
“Fundamentally all chemicals, even green chemicals, have a risk associated with them,” explained Ed McKiernan, Dometic director of development for product sanitation at Dometic’s plant in Big Prairie, Ohio. “When you ban chemicals and just say ‘this is banned,’ you don’t know what all the consequences could be. In the case of this law, one of my biggest fears is that it is going to cause more difficulty and more harm to campground septic systems than if the law didn’t happen.”
In fact, McKiernan claims banning these chemicals, which come from a list assembled 10 years ago by Dr. Katherine Farrell-Poe, PhD, of the University of Arizona, will have virtually no positive effect on the environment.
“The level of bronopol that is used in a 40-gallon tank will virtually have no impact on a septic system based on studies that have been done at sewage treatment plants,” McKiernan explained. “At the time the list was put together it was thought that bronopol was another name for formaldehyde, and it’s not. There has been a lot of research done and it is clearly a different product. Bronopol is a good chemical because it is cost-effective, does a good job of odor control at high temperatures and has very minimal environmental impact.”
McKiernan said RV owners can – and often do – use alternative products that contain ammonium compounds, calcium nitrates or enzymes/bacteriological kinds of additives.
“The difficulty with those three alternatives is there are issues with biodegradability and odor control,” he said. “Nitrates are not removed when they go to the septic tank. They go into the leach field. You are going to be adding more nitrates and causing a bigger problem for the environment.”
Some of the greener products generally don’t work at high temperatures, according to McKiernan, and in the state of California where high temperatures are the norm, he maintained, fighting bad odors could become a way of life for the RV enthusiast.
When you take away products containing bronopol, McKiernan maintained, RV owners will likely start using homemade concoctions containing things like Drano or bleach, which kill all the bacteria in a septic system. “This will have a very negative environmental effect,” he said.
“We want to do the right thing environmentally, but we want to do the right thing by giving the RV owner products that work in high temperatures,” McKiernan added.
McKiernan would like to see California do an in-depth study on bronopol to gain a clearer understanding before passing the bill as it stands.