MTI Funds Regulatory Defense Fund

Posted By: Tom Morrison Community,

In 2024 MTI created the Regulatory Impact Task Force. This task force is to monitor and make recommendations to the MTI Board of Trustees, on any action steps or funding needed to support coalitions or strategies, keeping overly burdensome and costly regulations from having a negative impact on MTI Members.

MTI has jumped in head first to help support the California Metals Coalition (CMC) on the issue of air quality standards. The rules being considered are a huge issue to the heat treating industry as a whole, and could cost each plant over $1,000,000 to comply with, in their current format. MTI has created a defense fund to financially offer support to groups like CMC, helping to build awareness and provide education to the rule-making boards, so they have the right technical research to make their decisions.  MTI has hosted webcasts and in-person meetings to help Members stay informed and energized on this issue. Numerous Members are attending the virtual and in-person meetings in the rule-making process. 

Under Fed-OSHA regulations, heat treating facilities must test workers for hexavalent chromium exposure and meet an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 5 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) of air. Passing the Fed-OSHA requirement of 5 μg/m3 should be commonplace for a well-run heat treater. 

But there are risks beyond the requirement to protect workers. Regulations exist to protect the community from the exposure risk of hexavalent chromium. Hexavalent chromium that may be coming from heat treating operations could leave your property and cause an inhalation risk to residents, schools, and other sensitive receptors. 

So what is the exposure risk limit for inhalation of hexavalent chromium in the community? Let’s start in California. In California, Cal-EPA—under the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)—has an enforceable inhalation health risk limit for hexavalent chromium that equates to 1 nanogram per cubic meter (ng/m3) of air.

Yes, the community health risk limit for hexavalent chromium in California is one nanogram…or a billionth of a gram.  

Since 2015, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has been using community air monitors to collect air data in Los Angeles County for hexavalent chromium. SCAQMD is the local air agency that regulates the Southern California counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside. SCAQMD is largest air district in the U.S.  It has 1,100 employees, covers nearly 11,000 square miles, and 17 million people.

In the SCAQMD jurisdiction, when hexavalent chromium levels exceed 1 ng/m3 at a community air monitor, SCAQMD enforcement visit nearby metal facilities. Los Angeles area metal heat treaters, metal finishers, metal melters, scrap yards, fabricators, and metal forging facilities have been the subject of SCAQMD enforcement.

Scrutiny of metal heat treating facilities, and the potential to generate hexavalent chromium emissions, have come from the heating of chromium-based alloys, chromium-based racks or baskets, stainless steel components within an oven, and refractory.  

In 2016, SCAQMD temporarily shut down a local metal heat treater and metal finisher for hexavalent chromium emissions that exceeded 1 ng/m3 at the property line.  SCAQMD conducted source testing, quench tank sampling, and fugitive emission testing for hexavalent chromium to support their enforcement actions. As part of the abatement order to re-open, the heat treater fully enclosed the building, and captured emissions from the operations with a baghouse and secondary ULPA filters—which is a $1,000,000+ system.     

In 2017, SCAQMD hired the University of California Riverside Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) to conduct research of hexavalent chromium emissions from heat treating. CE-CERT purchased a small heat treat oven and tested numerous alloys, racks, baskets, and refractory at 1500 F, 1900 F, and 2100 F.  UC Riverside published a report that stated heat treating generated hexavalent chromium emissions, and in 2019, the SCAQMD initiated new rulemaking for heat treating and forging furnaces.  

SCAQMD’s new rulemaking for heat treating furnaces is called “Proposed Rule (PR) 1435: Control of Toxic Air Contaminants from Metal Heating Operations”.  SCAQMD held five public working group meetings on PR 1435 since 2019. Currently, SCAQMD has proposed that heat treating companies that operate a furnace above 1250 F enclose the facility, source test the equipment, and install a baghouse with secondary filtration to control toxic emissions. These requirements will cost $1,000,000+ per facility to install and operate.

California’s activities over the past 10 years on hexavalent chromium have impacted the rest of the nation. Fed-EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) includes an evaluation of the inhalation health risk for hexavalent chromium. IRIS is a federal human health assessment program that evaluates information on health effects that may result from exposure to toxic contaminants.

In September 2023, Fed-EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SRB) published a report titled, “Review of EPA’s draft IRIS Toxicological Review of Hexavalent Chromium.” Fed-EPA’s IRIS evaluation and SRB report are steps towards an updated national regulation for hexavalent chromium that will impact all heat treating operations. Whether or not Fed-EPA follows in the footsteps of California remains to be seen. 

It is important for heat treating facilities to recognize the current and growing risks impacting their facility. California’s 1 nanogram standard, SCAQMD’s proposed rule 1435, CE-CERT’s study, and Fed-EPA’s rulemaking process, all focus on potential hexavalent chromium emissions from heat treating operations that may impact communities. Risks can exceed $1,000,000 per facility, so it is important to be proactive now to protect your heat treating business. 

It is more important than ever before to be a supporting member of the Metal Treating Institute. This is an effort every Member, in every state, should be informed on and stay current on. If these rules are passed in California, and then make their way nationwide through the EPA, it will dramatically change the dynamics and the costs of operating a heat treat facility.