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O.C. metal-finishing plant poses high cancer risk to nearby residents

A metal-finishing facility in Newport Beach poses an "unacceptably high" cancer risk to its neighbors and should curtail its emissions as soon as possible, state air quality officials said Tuesday.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District said it would ask its independent hearing board to order Hixson Metal Finishing to reduce its emissions of chromium 6 "on an expedited schedule."

The plant is next to an apartment building in a neighborhood with a mix of homes and businesses near the border with Costa Mesa. Monitoring instruments that the South Coast Air Quality Management District installed across the street from the plant found a cancer risk of as much as 540 in 1 million. From the roof of the carport at the apartment building, the risk was as much as 375 in 1 million.


FOR THE RECORD:
Metal plant emissions: An article in the April 2 LATExtra section about emissions from a Newport Beach plant misspelled the last name of the president of Hixson Metal Finishing. His name is Douglas Greene, not Green. —


"It's high, it's unacceptably high," said Sam Atwood, the air district's spokesman. "They are going to have to take every measure possible to reduce their risk."

Hixson President Douglas Green said the company would work with the air district on a plan to comply with pollution rules. Green said that the company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last few years ensuring that equipment is up to date and that every piece of machinery that could be emitting chromium 6 has been inspected.

"We'll find the source and stop it," he said.

But Green also questioned whether all the toxic emissions were coming from his plant, saying that he's witnessed other businesses in the area "doing things we wouldn't do."

Air district officials said they were certain the chromium was coming from Hixson because monitors inside the facility had also picked up high readings. Still, officials cautioned residents not to be too alarmed by the findings.

The cancer risk from air pollution is still lower in the neighborhood around Hixson than it is in much of the Los Angeles Basin because the overall air quality in Newport Beach is much better, they said.

The average cancer risk in Southern California from all sources of air pollution combined is about 1,200 in 1 million, according to the air district. In Newport Beach, however, it is about 560 in 1 million. Even with the additional burden imposed on residents living near Hixson, it is still lower than average, officials said.

Other chrome-plating operations in Southern California may pose similar dangers.

Air district officials began continuously monitoring the air around Hixson about a decade ago after a broader examination of pollution in the region picked up higher than expected levels of chromium 6 near the facility.

Chromium 6 levels in the area gradually declined but then ticked up again in 2011, said Mohsen Nazemi, the air district's deputy executive officer. "We are trying to pinpoint where the emissions may be coming from," inside the plant, Nazemi said.

Air district officials said they intend to file an abatement order by the end of the month.

Chromium 6 is a known carcinogen often used in metal plating. It gained renown in the Oscar-winning film "Erin Brockovich" about pollution in Hinkley, a high desert community northeast of Los Angeles.

This is not the first time the Hixson facility has been accused of posing a danger. In 1987, one of the worst hazardous materials fires in Southern California occurred there. Several firefighters who fought the blaze later died of cancer.

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

jill.cowan@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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