California regulators vote to ban chrome plating by 2039

California air regulators voted on Thursday to ban the use of a highly toxic metal for restoring classic car parts, protecting aviation components and producing a shiny metallic finish for a variety of consumer products.

From car bumpers to kitchen faucets, hexavalent chromium, known as chromium-6, has given a range of consumer products a sparkling decorative shine. It also provides critical aircraft components like aircraft landing gear with a durable, rust-resistant coating.

Although hardened chrome is harmless, the fumes from the plating process — 500 times more toxic than diesel exhaust — increase the risk of cancer in many underprivileged communities across the state, according to California regulators.

To reduce the health risks associated with this exposure, the California Air Resources Board has adopted a first-of-its-kind rule for the chrome plating industry to phase out the use of chromium-6 for decorative purposes. by 2030 at the latest and for essential functions by 2039.

“Hexavalent chromium, in my opinion, should go in the trash with the other hazardous industrial chemicals that we as a modern society have decided not to use anymore,” said Gideon Kracov, a member of the board of directors of the CARB. “Leaded gasoline in cars. Chlorofluorocarbons in our atmosphere. PCBs and dioxins. Volatile organic compounds in paint.

The rule was hailed by clean air advocates who argued that disadvantaged communities would reap huge health benefits, especially in Southern California. Los Angeles County – a stronghold of classic car enthusiasts and aerospace companies – has the highest concentration of chromists in the country.

Industry leaders and business owners condemned the vote, calling it a death knell for metal finishing operations in California. The vote, they said, will cause essential jobs and services to migrate to states with lower environmental standards.

“It’s going to make my business worthless,” said Art Holman, owner of Sherm’s Custom Plating, a car customization business in Sacramento. “My employees will be unemployed. Forty-three years in the sewers. My whole business ran until this (rule) was passed and then my property is a hazardous waste facility.

The metal finishing industry had tried to negotiate tighter emissions controls instead of an outright ban. They argued that their facilities generated only a small fraction of the state’s total chromium-6 emissions, and that petroleum refining operations and cars and trucks produced far more.

However, the state argued that chromists were dramatically increasing chromium-6 emissions near their operations, posing a significant risk to nearby communities.

In California, there are over 110 chrome plating facilities. About 55% of them are within 1,000 feet of homes or schools, according to CARB.

The state’s original proposal called for decorative drywall workers to stop using chrome-6 in 2027. However, an amendment gave those operations an additional three years if they installed building enclosures that would limit toxic fumes escaping. of their operations.

State officials hope the new rule will force companies to switch to trivalent chromium, a much less toxic alternative, which has been available as a substitute since the early 1990s. However, trivalent chromium has not been widely used. in the decorative plating industry because its darker color is similar to stainless steel, an aesthetic that has not appealed to California car enthusiasts who strive to emulate the glossy sheen of 20th century models.

For the California aerospace industry, trivalent chromium has not been proven to meet Department of Defense specifications. But the state hopes it will propel more research in the years to come.

In any case, the transition away from chromium-6 will not be cheap.

The state estimates it will cost about $40 million to transition the decorative plaques. It could cost as much as $648 million to transition larger chromists who need industrial-grade coatings for products like aircraft components.

Southern California remains synonymous with classic and custom cars of yesteryear, from hot rods to lowriders. Some CARB staff have acknowledged that they appreciate the automotive culture, including V. Manuel Perez, who was born and raised in the Coachella Valley.

“I like lowriders…” Perez said. “I love that kind of stuff because I grew up with that culture. But I also understand the balance that we have to commit to.

Los Angeles Times

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