Army Turns to Safer, Tougher, 'Greener' Paint

In what the Army is heralding as a breakthrough, a new coating system that is more effective and safer to human health and the environment is being made available for its use to paint aircraft and other equipment. The system comes after two years of research and testing conducted by the Connecticut Army National Guard at its 1109th Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depot (AVCRAD) on trivalent chromium-based primers and sealers. For its efforts, the unit on Friday received the Army's highest honor in environmental stewardship--the Secretary of the Army Environmental Award.

Chromium has long been used in paint to create dense, protective coatings. This is especially important to the Army, which needs to cover its equipment with paint that can resist corrosive chemical agents. However, chromium, in its hexavalent form, is a known carcinogen. Although the Army has used chromium-6-based paint safely to protect and extend the life of its expensive equipment, it was open to trying something else that wasn't so potentially harmful both to human health and the environment. The question was, what else is there? AVCRAD's research revealed exactly what: a different kind of chromium-based paint that uses chromium-3 instead of chromium-6.

The Army says its willingness to find a new paint system turned to resolve in 2006 when OSHA released more stringent regulations for permissible exposure limits of chromium-6. That's when AVCRAD, which plays a major role in aircraft maintenance for the Army, decided that finding a "green" alternative to the standard chromium-6 paint system was better than upgrading its air filters to meet the new requirements. According to the Army, the team initiated a rigorous hunt for a suitable replacement. What it found was a water-based chemical agent-resistant coating system that exceeds the performance of the old system. The replacement system leaves a smoother finish coating and is more resistant to fading and chalking, which minimizes the need for cosmetic painting procedures. The new chromium-3-based system also is safer to human health and the environment, AVCRAD says, because it reduces the use of hazardous materials and the release of potentially harmful air emissions, likewise significantly reducing the harmful chemicals that are present when disposing of paint stripping waste.

"AVCRAD's willingness to test and demonstrate the viability of alternative aircraft primers will help eliminate they Army's use of chromium-6, resulting in significant protection of human health and the environment," said Dana Arnold, Chief of Staff for the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive. Partnering with the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, AVCRAD initiated and now manages the effort to promote use of the new paint system in both military and private organizations.

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