This week, 271 chrome plating facilities in California received an order from the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) mandating the investigation of Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at their facilities. Up until 2016, fume suppressants used by these facilities often contained perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS), a variety of PFAS.
PFAS consists of thousands of entirely man-made chemicals characterized by a strong bond between fluorine and carbon that have many manufacturing and industrial applications. They are also found in consumer products such as carpeting, apparel, personal care items, and fast food paper wrappings. PFAS is used in firefighting foam, wire and cable coatings, and in the manufacturing of semiconductors. Health studies have linked small doses of PFAS, including PFOS, to reduced immune response, raised cholesterol, and cancer.
PFAS has been widely used within the chrome plating industry as a chemical fume suppressant. According to the National Association for Surface Finishing, it’s estimated that 30 – 40% of surface finishing facilities have chromium electroplating processes. The beginning of its use in the industry goes back to the 1950s and most recently has been required by many states to reduce harmful hexavalent chrome air emissions. Because the chrome plating industry is so highly regulated and monitored, the required use of PFAS in the plating process is well known and therefore has been “on the radar” of state and federal enforcement agencies as potential sources for PFAS pollution.