Skip to main content

Protecting Communities from Chrome Plating Facilities

Case Overview

On behalf of local and national environmental groups Clean Air Council, California Communities Against Toxics, and Sierra Club, Earthjustice is challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s weak emission standards for chromium electroplating plants, facilities that emit dangerous amounts of cancer-causing hexavalent chromium.

Many chrome platers release cancer-causing pollutants near homes, schools, and day care centers which means that the most vulnerable residents, including children, have to bear the brunt of this toxic exposure.  (cobalt123 / Flickr)

In September 2012, EPA issued a final rule that failed to require all facilities to at least match the level of pollution control achieved by industry leaders in California. Instead of setting strong standards that would protect public health nationwide, the EPA set national standards that are weaker than what the Clean Air Act requires, an action that posed significant threats to communities living near chromium electroplating plants.

Chromium electroplating plants, also known as chrome platers, apply thin layers of chromium onto metal objects (like car bumpers and furniture) to increase their durability or attractiveness and in the process release dangerous amounts of hexavalent chromium, an extremely potent human carcinogen that is unsafe at any level of exposure.

About 1,350 chrome platers operate throughout the United States, and the EPA acknowledges that many of these facilities are located in urban neighborhoods, communities of color, and lower income communities. Many chrome platers release cancer-causing pollutants near homes, schools, and day care centers which means that the most vulnerable residents, including children, have to bear the brunt of this toxic exposure.

As a result of this, California passed a rule in 2006 that not only provides more protective emission limits than EPA’s new standards, but also requires new chrome plating facilities to meet more rigorous limits in residential areas and neighborhoods. Today, nearly 200 chrome plating facilities are operating in California, indicating that the industry has been able to meet requirements of a stronger rule.

Following an Earthjustice lawsuit on behalf of Sierra Club, the EPA performed the long-overdue rulemaking to update the air toxics standards for chrome platers, which led to the current action now being challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Case Updates

November 20, 2012 | Blog Post

The Shiny Scary Truth About Chromium

Chromium shows up in surprising places in modern society—most notably on car bumpers and furniture to improve how they look. Too often, the facilities that do this kind of plating put the carcinogen hexavalent chromium into the air in local communities where they operate.