In late 2016, in response to the relentless activism of concerned parents and teachers, Southern California air pollution regulators began a hexavalent chromium air monitoring effort in industrial areas of the City of Paramount, Los Angeles. The investigation led them from one source to another and they held a public town hall to share that they found areas with up to 350 times normal levels of carcinogenic hex chrome in the air.

Short-term exposure to hex chrome can cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation, including asthma symptoms. Long-term exposure can lead to nasal and lung cancer. Regulators pinpointed a number of local metal processing companies as sources of high hex chrome emissions and have since expanded the air monitoring study to include neighboring Compton companies and filed dozens of notices of violation against Paramount companies requiring them to pay penalties, install new pollution controls, create risk reduction plans, and take steps to reduce pollution.

Not unlike other urban cities in Southeast LA and around the country where communities of color and low-income communities live, in Paramount industrial facilities are located close to residences, schools, and community centers. Resident groups mobilized and are still mobilizing today to hold the offending facilities responsible and protect Paramount residents and workers.

Concerned Paramount Residents Fight Pollution, Paramount Community Coalition Against Toxics, and Social Eco Education (S.E.E.) are local environmental justice organizations that formed out of this issue. As a result of their organizing, the local regulator worked to revise and update a Rule for metal plating facilities, and is now working to construct a new rule to require toxic metal monitoring.

In late 2016, CEH began working with two of these community-based groups and filed a lawsuit against four of the companies responsible for exposing nearby residents to high levels of hexavalent chromium without warning. Two years later, we reached an agreement with three of the largest metalworking companies in California (collectively owned by Precision Castparts Auto) that requires the companies to warn residents and businesses about exposure and pay for additional air monitoring if levels continue to be high and local regulators remove their monitors. The agreement adds additional enforcement to the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s important work on this hex chrome air issue in LA County.

Community groups are now spending funds from the settlements to purchase and install air filtration systems in homes closest to the offending businesses. In addition to providing legal support, CEH connected local activists with research on the toxic threats they face. Engaging with residents allows CEH’s legal counsel to accurately incorporate their needs and interests into negotiations with companies. The residents around these facilities are primarily low-income communities of color.