Even as military and defense contractors will likely have difficulty in meeting an upcoming worker safety standard for hexavalent chromium—a key metal used in the aerospace industry—new pressures, including litigation and potential new risk standards, are arising that may result in further tightening of the worker and environmental standards for the substance.

The pressures to tighten standards for hexavalent chromium come as the DOD and industry are searching for alternatives to the substance. The military uses hexavalent chromium extensively to prevent corrosion and resist wear. Its uses also include hard chrome surface treatments, chromate conversion coating, anodizing processes, and use in primer paint for painted metal surfaces, according to DOD.
The substance is on DOD's "action" list of emerging contaminants, recognizing there will likely be future restrictions on use of the metal and limits on its availability. Emerging contaminants are those substances with potential health risks for which either no current standards exist or the standards are changing.
Regulation of hexavalent chromium is in flux due to three recent actions, which Richter outlined during the conference. First, a worker safety standard issued by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) two years ago is being challenged in court by public interest groups, with an aim toward strengthening the standard. Second, an advisory agency to OSHA recently issued a recommendation that the agency make its worker safety standard more stringent, in order to lower lung cancer death risks. Third, EPA is revisiting technology-based standards for air pollutants to see if risk levels are sufficiently reduced in operations that rely on chromium and other applications, according to Richter. European restrictions are also expected to affect DOD's use of the metal.
For more information disclosed during the conference, please visit www.insideEPA.com.