Global Fastener News

2004 FIN – Hex Chrome to be Phased Out in U.S.

March 07
00:00 2013

3/7/2013 2:36:00 PM
2004 FIN – Hex Chrome to be Phased Out in U.S.

October 13, 2004 FIN – Anyone who has seen the movie Erin Brockovich has heard about hexavalent chromium, or Cr+ 6.
The film, starring Julia Roberts, chronicles the effort to restrict the use of the industrial compound near residential areas.
Hex chrome is widely used to treat fasteners because it provides superior corrosion protection. While viewers might be tempted to dismiss the movie as a dramatic overstatement about the risk of hex chrome exposure, its presentation of the danger to human and animal health is accurate, according to Lee Swope, automotive product liaison for Pavco, a metal finishing supplier based in Warrensville Heights, OH. Participating in a panel discussion at a dinner meeting of the Los Angeles Fastener Association, Swope said few dispute the need to end hex chrome usage.
“Hex chrome is just a bad apple that we have to move away from,” Swope stated.
The European Union has already banned Cr+ 6, with a directive set to be implemented July 1, 2007. Given the global nature of the auto industry, the EU ban has forced the Big Three U.S. automakers to wean themselves from hex chrome.
“Anything that happens in Europe & we have to follow suit,” Swope explained.
While hex chrome’s usefulness is widely known – namely its superior corrosive resistance and lower cost  ­– its toxic nature and the fact that it is a carcinogen have made its use unacceptable, Swope noted.
When you count the number of used vehicles that leach Cr+ 6 into groundwater, you begin to see how pervasive the problem is.
To illustrate his point, Swope produced a graphic showing a blackened tree overshadowing a bomb with the fuse already lit. Swope said that picture demonstrated the dangers of continued hex chrome use.
How important is the change for the fastener industry? Fasteners contain 62% of all hex chrome on a typical car, Swope pointed out.
Platers are switching to trivalent chromates and chrome-free finishes to replace Cr+ 6. Trivalent chromates are more environmentally friendly while exceeding automaker specs; they also handle baking without degradation. Replacing hex chrome with trivalent chromium finishes currently adds 20% to 50% to plating costs. While those costs may decline as trivalent chromium becomes more widely used, the chemistry to produce it is more expensive and requires extra sealers to resist corrosion.
Other panelists agreed with Swope. Regardless of cost, Carmen Vertullo of Simply Better said the industrywide move away from hex chrome is only a question of “when, not if.”
“At some point in time, all hexavalent chrome products will be phased out and everyone will go to trivalent chrome,” Vertullo explained.
Swope indicated that chrome-free finishes are the wave of the future. “People won’t even like the sound of ‘trivalent chrome,’ and we’ll [eventually] have to get out of it altogether.
One notable exception to the hex chrome ban is the U.S. military.
“The military will continue to use hexavalent chrome. They say, ‘We don’t care about the environment, we want this stuff because it’s the best,'” Swope stated.
How Hex Ban Affects Platers
Nick Grana of Pentrate Metal Processing said the California Environmental Protection Agency already considers hex chrome 12-times more toxic than the U.S. EPA, pushing many platers into neighboring states.
Other platers are simply going out of business. But making the switch to trivalent chromium is not as simple as it sounds. One issue is whether customers will accept the look of trivalents, which do not produce a shiny finish.
“Our work is cut out for us. We don’t know where it will end, Grana commented. ©2004/2013 Fastener Industry News.
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