Hexavalent Chrome Phase-Out in California

Despite strong opposition from the business community, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted a measure to phase out the use of hexavalent chromium by chrome plating and chromic anodizing facilities, starting with its use for decorative purposes, where – according to the agency – safer alternatives now are available. CARB documents classify hexavalent chromium as a carcinogen that is the second-most potent toxic air contaminant identified by the state, and it is 500 times more toxic than diesel exhaust. It is CARB’s position that hexavalent chromium used for both decorative and functional purposes on metal products creates emissions that pose health risks for residents living near the facilities, which often are disadvantaged communities that face other environmental and air pollution burdens.

Under the updates to the 2007 Airborne Toxic Control Measure, decorative platers will have to transition away from hexavalent chromium by either 2027 or 2030. CARB believes that less toxic options currently are available. Functional platers will have until 2039 to eliminate hexavalent chrome use as alternatives still are being developed.

Under changes made to the rule, decorative chrome platers, which work on products such as kitchen appliances or car bumpers, will have two paths: those opting to meet the 2027 deadline will have first access to financial incentive programs to assist with the transition to trivalent chromium, while those opting to wait until 2030 will need to implement building enclosure requirements by 2026 to reduce fugitive emissions and may have less grant funding available for their transition. Furthermore, the amendments require that businesses meet best practice measures, such as spill prevention and enhanced cleanup of hexavalent chromium, by 2024.

Functional chrome plating facilities, which include hard chrome plating and chromic acid anodizing used for products such as aircraft parts, will be required to implement building enclosure requirements and best practice measures by 2024 to reduce fugitive emissions. In 2032 and 2036, CARB will conduct technology reviews to assess the development of alternative technologies available prior to the phase-out of hexavalent chromium for functional chrome plating in 2039.

During the public hearing, CARB heard from business owners and industry groups that opposed the regulation, pointing out that the industry releases less than 1% of all hexavalent chromium into the air in the state. They contended that the new rules are unfair to the finishing industry because they rely on faulty data that doesn’t reflect the self-regulations that platers already have put into place.

CARB estimates that more than 110 permitted facilities in California use hexavalent chromium. Approximately 70% of the businesses are in Southern California, which is the nation’s highest concentration of chrome platers. The California Legislature has indicated plans to allocate $10 million as part of the upcoming budget process to help chrome platers with the cost of transitioning to trivalent chromium plating, a safer alternative that has been used for decorative chrome plating applications for decades.