In EPA’s final chromium electroplating NESHAP rule, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)-based fume suppressants can no longer be added to chromium plating tanks after September 21, 2015. Global manufacturers of these compounds have agreed to phase out their sale by December 31, 2015.
Facilities can comply with the chromium electroplating NESHAP by either meeting the surface tension levels or the emission limits. Unfortunately, non-PFOS-based fume suppressants are not a drop-in replacement for all uses. Non-PFOS-based fume suppressants available for chromium plating applications have proven to be effective in lowering surface tension levels, but not in reducing chromium emissions to meet the new limits for existing sources. And due to product quality and performance issues, some chromium operations haven’t been able to use the non-PFOS-based suppressants successfully for certain applications. Chemical suppliers are in development on an effective non-PFOS fume suppressant for reducing chromium emissions.
What’s Happening in California?
The State of California has a separate regulation. Although it doesn’t provide for compliance by meeting a surface tension level, the state has approved certain fume suppressants that meet state emission limits. Chromium plating facilities in California can use the state-approved suppressants to comply, but the approved list doesn’t yet include any that aren’t PFOS-based. So until a non-PFOS suppressant is approved, California facilities that rely on an approved suppressant for chromium emission compliance will have to find another way to comply once PFOS-based suppressants can no longer be used or are no longer available.
Opportunity for Extension
EPA has acknowledged concerns regarding the use of non-PFOS based fume suppressants and stated that it “agrees that some electroplaters of highly specialized products may need to perform additional testing in order to integrate use of non-PFOS fume suppressants and that this testing may require a longer time commitment compared to other products.” It adds that the Clean Air Act allows facilities to apply for an extra year if needed.
Concluding Thoughts on Compliance Options
After September 21, 2015, facilities can no longer add PFOS-based fume suppressants to chromium plating tanks. That means facilities can use non-PFOS fume suppressants to lower surface tension levels. Companies that can’t demonstrate compliance with use of non-PFOS suppressants, and California shops that don’t have any approved non-PFOS fume suppressants, may have to install control equipment to meet regulatory standards.
While facilities may seek a permit to grant a one-year extension of the PFOS-based fume suppressant phase out, the extension appears to be limited to allow a facility additional time to install controls. In addition, there is a Presidential exemption that appears to be limited to situations in which the technology to meet the standard is not available, and it must also be in the national security interests of the U.S. (which may be applicable to certain chromium electroplating for defense applications). But regardless of whether the standard for the exemptions can be met, PFOS-based fume suppressants may not be commercially available after this year.
The NASF has challenged the final chromium electroplating NESHAP rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. The court could invalidate all, some, or none of the final rule. A final decision is expected before summer. In the meantime, facilities relying on PFOS fume suppressants should explore options to demonstrate compliance with the new provisions.