The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today issued a notice of its proposed decision not to update the emission standards for chromium electroplating plants, an action that poses significant threats to the health of people who live near such facilities. Chromium electroplating plants, also known as chrome platers, apply thin layers of chromium onto metal objects to increase their durability or attractiveness and in the process release dangerous amounts of cancer-causing chromium compounds including hexavalent chromium, an extremely potent human carcinogen that is unsafe at any level of exposure.
"Chrome plating facilities pose an unacceptable toxic threat to people living near them and are often located in neighborhoods already overburdened by toxic air pollution," said Jane Williams, the Chair of Sierra Club’s Air Toxics Task Force.
More than 1,700 chrome platers operate in the United States, and the EPA acknowledges that many of these facilities are located in urban neighborhoods and communities with significant low-income and populations of color. As a result, many chrome platers release cancer-causing pollutants within a block or less of homes, schools, and day care centers.
"In San Diego, people living in between two separate chrome platers were being exposed to hexavalent chromium and getting sick as a result," said Robina Suwol, Executive Director of California Safe Schools. "That wasn’t an isolated case. Nearly half of the chrome platers in California are within a few hundred feet of day care centers, residences or schools, so the state took action to protect its residents in 2007."
As the result of an Earthjustice lawsuit on behalf of Sierra Club, the EPA agreed to ensure that federal standards provide an ample margin of safety nationwide. But despite sufficient evidence that chrome platers’ emissions endanger the communities where they operate, the EPA proposed to find that the threats of cancer and other disease are "acceptable." Although the agency acknowledged that control technologies are available, its proposed rule would not require chrome platers to use them.
"Communities across the country are suffering unnecessarily," said Williams. "Cost-effective control technologies have been available for years. California has required its hundreds of facilities to use them, and if it can be done here, it can be done in other states. I do not want to hear of another child dying from cancer in America because our federal government cannot summon the political will to control chromium emissions."
"The action proposed today sets an ominous precedent," said Earthjustice attorney Emma Cheuse. "We look to the EPA to seek meaningful input from local communities about the pollution they breathe every day, and then set strong final standards that actually reduce emissions from these industrial facilities. Thanks to existing technology and the important authority it has under the Clean Air Act, the EPA can still decide to issue final standards that avoid unacceptable health threats like cancer and give local communities real relief from toxic air pollution."