California Wants to Ban Chrome Plating

If the state moves forward, the chemicals used in a chrome plating process would be banned by 2027.

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Image: Michael Macor (AP)

California is about turn the state’s restoration, customization, and other automotive industries on its head. The state is looking to reduce harmful emissions and cancer-causing chemicals. The L.A. Times reports state officials have set their sights on banning a method of chrome plating that releases potentially deadly and cancerous chemicals.

The chemical used in the chrome plating process is called hexavalent chromium. It’s what gives the chrome its shiny finish. It’s used in everything from aviation components to household bathroom fixtures. It’s probably more widely used in the automotive community. Chromed bumpers and trim are the lifeblood of the restoration and hot rod communities. They’re not ready for it.

The problem happens during the chroming process. To get that clean, shiny luster, vehicles or their parts are dipped in a vat of solution containing hexavalent chromium. Then, a current of electricity is sent through the liquid so that the hexavalent chromium adheres to the part. At the same time, however, the current heats the solution causing both bubbles and vapor which carry the chromium. And it’s deadly, over 500 times more toxic than diesel fumes.


Some companies that engage in this process are aware of the vapors and use suppressants to try to reduce the fumes. But The Times points out that the suppressants just make matters worse: “These suppressants contain PFAS, another highly toxic compound, which is discharged into local waterways.” The whole process releases cancer-causing chemicals into surrounding communities, state officials say.

Because of this, the California Air Resources Board is proposing a ban of chromium or chrome-6 by 2027 and a ban on the use of the compound for industrial durability by 2039. But the board may have a fight on its hands as both the automotive restoration industry and many of the state’s industries that rely on the compound are up in arms. The board knows that this ban would have huge implications across industries statewide, acknowledging that several thousand jobs could be lost.


If the ban is approved, state officials are allocating $10 million per year for the first three years of the ban to help the industry transition. That transition into what exactly isn’t clear. Bryan Leiker, executive director of the Metal Finishing Assn. of California said that the industry isn’t ready. “California is trying to force something to happen that’s not ready to happen. The consequences are going to be disastrous because you can lose an entire industry,” he said.