The congresswoman who represents Compton is seeking money to speed up air monitoring in the south Los Angeles County city after preliminary testing conducted there by the South Coast Air Quality Management District detected a substance known as total chromium.
The testing was the first step in the AQMD's investigation into whether chromium plating and anodizing plants in Compton are emitting hexavalent chromium, a human carcinogen. It's part of the agency's new seven-year initiative to assess toxic emissions associated with metal-processing facilities across the region.
Air district staff detected total chromium using a handheld device that monitors for total chromium, but doesn't differentiate between chromium 6 and other types of chromium, said AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood.
"What we found was that there were some higher levels of total chromium closer to some of the metal processing facilities, and as you traveled away, these levels would diminish," Atwood said. He couldn't say how much total chromium was found, adding there is no health standard for it.
The detection of total chromium doesn't indicate whether the cancer-causing compound is present in Compton, he said.
"This is really step one, if not step one-half, and this just gives us an indication that indeed these are areas and facilities where we need to be conducting air monitoring," he said.
Atwood said the AQMD would begin monitoring for chromium 6 in the coming weeks. He said the agency currently has seven air monitors available and will begin with testing at two facilities.
But Democratic Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragan says the detection of total chromium in the city requires urgent investigation.
"We need to immediately step in and test the air to make sure we're not allowing these facilities to poison our communities," she said.
Barragan has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for funding to support the air district's monitoring efforts and requested the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services test community residents for chromium 6 and other toxins.
She has also asked Gov. Jerry Brown, the state legislature and the state Air Resource Board to provide emergency funding to support the air district's monitoring efforts.
The AQMD announced last week that it would begin monitoring for chromium 6 in Compton, noting the city has several chromium plating and anodizing plants close to each other and to schools, homes and businesses.
Atwood, of the AQMD, declined to provide the list of facilities that the agency is investigating, calling it "confidential enforcement information."
The AQMD's regional monitoring effort grew out of its work in nearby Paramount this fall. In the course of investigating elevated levels of chromium 6 there, the air district learned that metal-processing facilities can be significant sources of the carcinogen, Wayne Nastri, AQMD executive officer, said in a statement.
"We will use the lessons from Paramount to determine whether there are any high emitters in Compton, and if so, require them to rapidly reduce their emissions," he said.
Chromium 6 has been associated with lung cancer when inhaled over long periods of time, typically years to decades, according to the air district.