EPA Issues Stricter Hex Chrome Rules

Graph of CrVI Emissions from EPA National Emissions Inventory 2005

Graph of CrVI Emissions from EPA National Emissions Inventory 2005

National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutant Emissions: Hard and Decorative Chromium Electroplating and Chromium Anodizing Tanks; and Steel Pickling— HCl Process Facilities and Hydrochloric Acid Regeneration Plants

On September 19 EPA  published their final hexavalent chromium rules: Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 182 / P. 58220 / Wednesday, September 19, 2012.   Click on link to download:

EPA Final Hex Chrome Rule, 9-19-2012

The table below summarizes the rule.

  New Limits Previous Limits
Decorative Chromium Plating:
Existing Sources 0.007 mg/dscm 0.010 mg/dscm
New Sources 0.006 mg/dscm 0.010 mg/dscm
Chromic Acid Anodizing:
Existing Sources 0.007 mg/dscm 0.010 mg/dscm
New Sources 0.006 mg/dscm 0.010 mg/dscm
Hard Chromium Plating:
Existing Sources   (small) 0.015 mg/dscm 0.030 mg/dscm
New Sources (small) 0.006 mg/dscm 0.015 mg/dscm
Existing Sources   (large) 0.011 mg/dscm 0.015 mg/dscm
New Sources (large) 0.006 mg/dscm 0.015 mg/dscm


These are the lowest hex chrome emission limits in the world.   Many platers , especially decorative chrome platers, have been meeting the existing limits with PFOS fume suppressants.  However, the new rule  bans the use of fume suppressants containing >1wt% PFOS, because it is a long chain perfluorinated compound that is persistent in the environment (PFOS used to be used in manufacturing Scotchgard and similar fabric stain repellents, but those products were reformulated some years back).  There are now short chain perfluorinated compounds on the market that have been successfully tested for fume suppression in chrome plating baths.  EPA claims that the new limits can be met very inexpensively, merely by increasing the amount of fume suppression surfactant in the plating bath.  However, recent testing shows that merely reducing the surface tension of the bath does not in fact reduce emissions.  This leaves platers with the only option of installing far more expensive scrubbers, which will be difficult or impossible for typical small plating companies to afford, especially in the present economy.

The Graph above shows the vast difference that this rule will make to hex chrome emissions.  Simply reducing power plant emissions of CrVI to 99.5% of their current levels would have the same effect as utterly obliterating the coating industry (and driving out all the industries dependent on it, which is most of them).

For more information see the NAS F website discussion of the new rule at http://www.nasf.org/nasf-news.php.

Legislation Introduced to “REACH-ify” US Manufacturing

Two major initiatives have just  been released to impose European REACH-like regulations on the US manufacturing sector:

1. July 25, 2012: Sen. Lautenberg’s Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, S. 847 (aka TSCA Reform) was reported by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on a 10-8 party line vote.

2. July 27, 2012: The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) issued Draft Regulations for Safer Consumer Products Alternatives as Part of the CA Green Chemistry Initiative.

The European REACH rules are explicitly based on the Precautionary Principle, whose underlying presumption is that all chemicals are toxic unless proved otherwise.  Under REACH the mere presence of a toxic chemical is unacceptable, regardless of how critical it is to manufacturing and whether or not it presents any actual risk.  This leads to the Substitution Principle, that one must always search for less-toxic alternatives, which makes sense in principle (who would use a toxic material if a benign alternative could do exactly the same thing). But in the real world, where no two chemical do exactly the same thing, this approach leads to a never-ending quest, since every chemical (even air and water) is toxic at a high enough dose.  REACH is in effect a tax on manufacturers around the world.  Its worst effects are just beginning to be felt in Europe, creating huge costs, risks and uncertainties for all manufacturers and leading us to expect that it will ultimately drive most manufacturing out of the EU.

US environmental regulations are built on the presumption that chemicals must be proved to be toxic before being restricted or banned.  They are also based on cost-benefit and risk – the mere existence of a hazardous chemical is not a problem, what matters is whether it presents a real risk to humans or the environment, and whether the benefits of regulation are worth the costs.

Although neither the proposed SCA nor the SCPA regulations reference the PP, they are both modeled on REACH and impose the Precautionary Principle.  In fact, reading the information behind the SCPA states that DTSC intends to use it as a vehicle for applying the Precautionary Principle.  (DTSC’s website proudly showcases its Director as “the architect of San Francisco’s groundbreaking Precautionary Principle legislation [who] spearheaded the citywide adoption of a precautionary approach to environmental decision-making”.)

The Safe Chemicals Act is clearly modeled on REACH and will impose costs and uncertainties on US manufacturing similar to those that REACH imposes in Europe.  Both REACH and the SCA claim to be aimed at encouraging innovation, but the complexity and cost of SCA will crush the development of innovative materials and innovative uses of existing materials in the US just as effectively as REACH is doing in Europe.  This is especially true for the small, entrepreneurial companies that typically develop the most innovative materials products.

The best approach for manufacturers is to keep ahead of the competition and regulation by staying aware of what is coming down the pike and what are the best manufacturing options for both the short and long term (see REACH Solutions).