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Metal Companies Concerned About Pending Air Regulations In Southern California

Metal-finishing companies warn that strict limits on a dangerous chemical could jeopardize their businesses and the aerospace industry as a whole.

Environmental regulators in the Los Angeles area are considering stronger restrictions on a hazardous industrial chemical — but some local businesses are reportedly gearing up to fight them.

The Orange County Register recently chronicled the spat between the South Coast Air Quality Management District and numerous metal-finishing shops over the potential limits on chromium-6.

Chromium-6 is a known carcinogen and was infamously at the center of the water contamination case that inspired the film "Erin Brockovich." Federal regulators believe that metal finishing techniques using the agent sodium dichromate are the most common way in which chromium-6 is released into the environment.

Those techniques, however, are used by numerous metal-finishing businesses throughout Southern California to make aircraft and defense components that resist corrosion. Business owners argue that the proposed limits are rushed and overly strict — and threaten their companies and the massive domestic aerospace sector.

“When you lose us, you lose the whole aerospace industry,” Metal Finishers Association of Southern California President Wesley Turnbow told the Register.

The AQMD, which regulates air pollution across a wide swath of metro Los Angeles, reportedly stepped up monitoring of hundreds of those companies after tests showed elevated levels of chromium-6 at two locations in the Paramount neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The agency expects to complete a draft of new rules limiting the chemical by the end of the year, and they reportedly could require companies to monitor the air if tests show concentrations of more than 1 nanogram per cubic meter -- 200 times lower than the threshold set by state regulators.

Industry representatives argued that level is unlikely to result in adverse health effects and that its costs could jeopardize thousands of blue-collar jobs that, in turn, supply specialized parts to Boeing, Northrop Grumman and other aerospace giants.

AQMD officials, however, said the agency is required to address dangerous substances. Some residents in Paramount reportedly filed a lawsuit over health problems they attributed to local metal-finishing facilities.

"It’s something that not only the community but the Legislature have demanded we look at," AQMD Executive Officer Wayne Nastri told the paper.

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