On Monday, on behalf of local and national environmental groups Clean Air Council, California Communities Against Toxics, and Sierra Club, Earthjustice filed a challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s weak emission standards for chromium electroplating plants, facilities that emit dangerous amounts of cancer-causing hexavalent chromium.
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.
“Chrome plating facilities have pumped dangerous levels of hexavalent chromium into the air, leading to childhood ‘cancer clusters’ at schools located next door to these facilities,” said Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics. “When tests reveal our children’s sandboxes and classrooms contain high levels of such a toxic chemical, it’s a health crisis that must be fixed.”
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.
“The example set in California shows us that facilities are capable of meeting stronger emission limits that protect communities from dangerous levels of toxic air pollution,” said Earthjustice attorney Emma Cheuse. “The EPA had no lawful justification for failing to give all communities in the U.S. the basic health protection that all Americans deserve.”
“These facilities are frequently located in low-income communities whose residents already bear a disproportionate share of air pollution’s harmful effects,” said William Margrabe of Clean Air Council. “It’s only fair for chrome platers in Pennsylvania and around the U.S. to at least meet the air pollution limits that facilities elsewhere have shown are fully achievable.”
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.