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AQMD To Begin Monitoring For Chromium 6 In Compton

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The South Coast Air Quality Management District, the agency responsible for monitoring air pollution in much of Southern California, is set to begin monitoring for chromium 6 in Compton, according to KPCC. Chromium 6 (or hexavelent chromium) is a carcinogenic chemical that's perhaps best known to the public from its role in the biographical film Erin Brockovich, where it was responsible for poisoning the residents of Hinkley, California.

Back in 2016, an AQMD investigation in Paramount, a heavily industrial city southeast of downtown, found that metal plating facilities were emitting levels of chromium 6 at up to 350 times the allowable limit. The stratospheric levels of toxicity found in Paramount had potential ramifications for Compton, which borders Paramount to the east, and has numerous chromium plating and anodizing plants, which can emit the cancer-causing heavy metal.

Chromium 6 emissions, which are associated with lung cancer over long-term exposure, can result from chrome plating and other metal finishing processes used in aerospace and other industrial applications, according to AQMD.

Compton Mayor Aja Brown told LAist that AQMD's decision to direct efforts and resources to the city was "welcomed news."

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"Improving air quality for Compton residents will be a multi-agency effort," Brown said. "The health of our residents and future generations rely on changes that we implement today."

Due to zoning regulations (or lack thereof), many Compton industrial facilities are located on the same blocks as "homes, schools, businesses, hospitals and senior centers," which is a "red flag" for AQMD, according to KPCC. Concerned that some of Compton's metal processing facilities could be emitting unhealthy levels of chromium 6, AQMD has decided to begin monitoring for the carcinogenic emissions in the area. KPCC reports that the agency announced plans to begin by monitoring two different metal processing plants in the area during a town hall on Thursday night. AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood told LAist that monitoring Compton would be part of the agency's comprehensive community air toxins emissions initiative, which developed from their work in Paramount.

According to Atwood, AQMD's monitoring in Paramount found that there were some sources of the toxic pollutant that were coming from industrial processes that weren't previously known to cause this emission. "No industry group, no scientific paper, no researchers or regulators had previously identified the specific processes that we found that were causing significant emissions of this highly potent carcinogenic," Atwood explained. "With that experience, our executive officer decided that we needed to take a closer look at, basically, all communities across our four-county jurisdiction where there are hexavalent chromium plating and anodizing operations," he continued. There are over a hundred such operations in the area, many of which produce parts for the aerospace industry.

AQMD looked at areas that had concentrations of these facilities, with a particular focus on areas that had concentrations near homes, schools, senior centers and other businesses, to decide where to start monitoring first. "We basically found that in Compton, so for that reason Compton is the next community that we chose to deploy our special monitoring efforts into," Atwood explained.

Because the agency has a certain number of air monitors and capacity in their laboratories (a large portion of which is still being used to continue monitoring in Paramount), they found that they only had the capacity to begin by monitoring two facilities. They chose Compton's EME Inc. and Morrell’s Electro Plating, Inc. as the initial two, based on recent inspection results, enforcement actions and records, and proximity to homes and schools, according to Atwood.

“The prospect that vulnerable populations such as children, the sick and the elderly would be inhaling this cancer-causing toxin is deeply disturbing,” U.S. Representative Nanette Diaz Barragán, who represents the Compton area, said in a statement. Barragán has urged the EPA to help AQMD with the installation and funding of monitors to test the air in Compton as soon as possible. "“I am leading an effort to help push Trump Administration officials to take immediate action on this issue,” Barragán continued. “If facilities are emitting chromium 6 at higher than acceptable levels, the sources need to be identified and EPA should immediately take all necessary actions to eliminate this threat to public health."

KPCC reports that AQMD will hold another community meeting in July to share the initial results from the monitoring.