AQMD to monitor for chromium 6 at two Compton-area metal plants

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The South Coast Air Quality Management District will begin monitoring two metal processing plants in the Compton area in the coming days to determine whether they're emitting excessive levels of the carcinogen hexavalent chromium, agency officials told residents at a town hall Thursday night.

Chromium plating and anodizing plants can emit hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6. There are eight such facilities in the Compton area, but officials decided to begin monitoring at two - EME Inc. and Morrell’s Electro Plating, Inc. - based on recent inspection reports and their proximity to homes, schools and businesses, according to AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood.

Kurt Wiese, the AQMD's general counsel, told the town hall it's "possible" these facilities are emitting chromium six, but the district doesn't know for sure yet.

"I'd like to emphasize possible, because we have not come across data yet indicating that there are in fact high levels of hexavalent chrome in Compton," Wiese said. "That's why we're here – it's to find out whether that circumstance exists."

The AQMD will place five small, portable monitors upwind and downwind from the two facilities. It will collect samples every three days and post the results on the agency's website.

If the monitoring reveals that any facilities are releasing unsafe levels of chromium six, the agency says it will take steps to force them to rapidly reduce their emissions. The air district said it will hold another community meeting in July to share the results of the monitoring.

EME Inc. is an aerospace metal finishing company, according to its website. The facility is adjacent to a mobile home park and across the street from several single-family homes.

At Thursday's meeting, EME CEO Wesley Turnbow pledged to work with air regulators to address any issues that are identified through the monitoring. He says the facility is currently complying with all AQMD rules.

"If the AQMD says 'this needs to change,' we will do what we've always done: We will comply, we will make it happen, we will change our facility," Turnbow said.

EME Inc., one of the two Compton-area chromium plating and anodizing plants the AQMD will monitor for possible excessive chromium 6 emissions.
EME Inc., one of the two Compton-area chromium plating and anodizing plants the AQMD will monitor for possible excessive chromium 6 emissions. Rebecca Plevin/KPCC

Morrell's is a metal finishing and chemical processing company servicing the aerospace and aircraft industries, according to its website. It's located on an industrial block.

The Compton area is the first target of the AQMD's new multi-year initiative monitoring for toxic emissions from some of the 111 chromium plating and anodizing plants in the air district’s jurisdiction.

The initiative grew out of its work in nearby Paramount. In the course of investigating elevated levels of chromium 6 there, the air district learned that some metal processing facilities previously unknown to emit high levels of the carcinogen can actually be significant sources.

The agency eventually reached agreements with two Paramount metal processors that require them to shut down their chromium-related operations if their emissions exceed a certain level.

Breathing chromium 6 for years or decades can increase the risk of lung and nose cancers, according to the AQMD. 

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