EcoWaste Coalition Welcomes Latest DENR Policy vs “Erin Brockovich” Chemical

Controlling a cancer-causing substance that was featured in the movie “Erin Brockovich” starring Julia Roberts is at the center of yet another chemical policy issuance by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

To reduce health damaging exposure to hexavalent chromium (Chromium VI), the highly toxic chemical that environmental activist Erin Brockovich stood up against, DENR recently published Administrative Order No. 2021-09, or the “Chemical Control Order (CCO) for Chromium VI Compounds.”

The biographical legal drama “Erin Brockovich” is based on her battle in the 1990s with Pacific Gas & Electric, which reportedly dumped wastewater containing Chromium VI or Cr(VI) in unlined ponds, contaminating the groundwater and seriously affecting the health of Hinkley residents in California.   Cr(VI) was used by the power utility giant to prevent rust in its cooling system.

According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “Cr(VI) is known to cause cancer. In addition, it targets the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin and eyes.”  OSHA has warned that “industrial processes that involve chromium can result in worker exposure to toxic hexavalent chromium.”

“We see the promulgation of this CCO as a positive step that will hopefully lead to the replacement of Cr(VI) in industrial processes, especially when feasible and non-toxic alternatives have been identified," said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner of the EcoWaste Coalition, noting that the CCO provides for a substitution and phase-out plan.

In a position paper submitted to the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) in March 2017, the EcoWaste Coalition cited prohibitions on Cr(VI) in other countries. For example, the REACH Regulation of the European Chemicals Agency banned the use of Cr(VI) for surface treatment by September 2017.  REACH refers to the regulations on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals in the European Union (EU).  The EU likewise phased out corrosion-resisting paint additives in January 2019.   In May 2015, the EU enforced a ban on leather articles and articles containing leather parts that come into contact with the skin if the Cr(VI) content is equal to or greater than 3 mg/kg.

Under the CCO, the use of Cr(VI) will be “strictly regulated” in activities relating to the manufacture of pigments, inks, textile dyes, protective coatings and paints, stainless steel, and electronic equipment or electroplating.  The strict regulation will also apply to the operation of laboratory facilities and tanneries.

In addition to the general requirements of DENR A.O. 1992-29, any person or entity engaged in the importation, manufacture, distribution and industrial use of Cr(VI) are required to register with and obtain importation clearance from the EMB.  DAO 1992-29 provides for the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 6969, or the “Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990.”

Concerned persons or entities are also required to comply with the requirements pertaining to importation, manufacturing, chemical management plan, emergency and contingency plan, labeling, workers’ training, handling, transport, treatment, storage and disposal.

The DENR through the EMB may develop a phase-out plan for uses of Cr(VI) compounds in consultation with other agencies and stakeholders, according to the CCO.

The CCO for Cr(VI) compounds, along with the other CCO for cadmium and its compounds, will take effect in November 2021, following their publication last October.  DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu signed both CCOs last May 6.