If you are planning a restoration on that classic LIncoln, this article is a must-read if your job includes work on the vehicle’s chrome parts.
State regulators are planning to alter the current chrome plating process and the result will most likely increase cost and change the appearance of replated items. Hemmings News reported on May 4 that talks are underway to ban hexavalent chromium from the chrome plating process and substitute a less toxic trivalent chromium product instead.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has started conversations with platers, plating groups, and other stakeholders to determine how it should go about replacing hexavalent chromium with trivalent chromium.
The difference between the two, from a public health standpoint, is significant, according to CARB. Hexavalent chrome (chromium VI), which CARB identified as a toxic air contaminant in 1986, is a carcinogen “for which there is no safe threshold exposure level.” The fume suppression products that platers have used since to reduce the amount of chromium gas emitted during the electroplating process contained first PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid) then later PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), two so-called “forever chemicals” that have been blamed for a variety of health problems.
According to CARB materials, the 130 platers in the state emit about 4 pounds of hexavalent chromium per year, less than the 10.7-pound maximum that the state currently allows, calculated based on the maximum permissible rate of .0015 milligrams per amp-hour per chrome plater.
Trivalent chrome (chromium III), on the other hand, is not considered a carcinogen, and is far less toxic to human health. In minuscule doses, it is considered an essential dietary element. In addition, according to CARB, it does not require PFAS compounds, the electroplating process requires less energy, and in high chloride environments it provides better corrosion resistance.
The problem with using trivalent chrome is that the replated product is not the same color as the hexavalent chrome and would not match OEM or older existing replated items. Hexavalent has that clear blue sheen, but trivalent is more grayish and smoky. Trivalent will not replace the look of hexavalent. If the ban is approved restorers will have to send their parts out of state to get that familiar chrome color and sheen.
A relatively new process (in 2017, just 10 companies in the United States plated with trivalent chrome), trivalent chrome plating has similar operating costs and has yet to be fully accepted by OEM automakers. Further, CARB estimates that it could cost a small chroming facility $60,000 to $100,000 to switch from hexavalent to trivalent. Large facilities would likely pay anywhere from $250,000 to $300,000 to switch. Those who wouldn’t want to switch would have to move their shops out of state.
While no draft regulations have yet been issued, CARB has proposed a rough timeline for phasing out hexavalent chrome, starting with a December 31, 2021 ban on all new hexavalent plating facilities. Decorative platers would have to switch to trivalent chrome by January 1, 2023. Platers specializing in hard hexavalent chrome for industrial and military applications would have to switch by January 1, 2027, while anodizers still using hexavalent chrome would have to switch by January 1, 2032. A CARB representative said that the agency does not expect to have a draft of the regulation ready before June 2022. For more information, visit ARB.CA.gov.