Having the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show up at your front door on a Monday morning is never a good sign—kind of like Mike Wallace and a 60 Minutes crew, or maybe even your in-laws. But Ray Lucas and his employees at Valley Chrome Plating in Clovis, Calif., just didn’t see it that way.
There stood EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld and a delegation of EPA and environmental folk with their hands extended and smiles on their faces, ready to give Ray and his crew a major award and a slap on the back.
Blumenfeld rewarded Valley Chrome Plating for its accomplishments under its National Partnership for Environmental Priorities (NPEP) program, which focuses on reducing the use of potentially hazardous chemicals in products and processes. By forming partnerships with the EPA, NPEP partners representing industry, business, municipalities, federal facilities and tribes are successfully reducing the use of toxic chemicals.
“NPEP success stories illustrate partner commitment to environmental stewardship and show why NPEP has adopted the slogan ‘Better Environment, Better Neighbor, Better Business,’” Blumenfeld says.
It’s been a long time since someone called a plater a “better neighbor,” even though 99 percent of shops abide by all the rules and regulations the government—specifically the EPA and OSHA—throw at them. It only makes the 6 o’clock news when a chemical spill occurs or some level of chromium is found in soil, and immediately the media points to plating shops as the culprit, although most often they never are.
So what did Valley Chrome Plating—a major plater of bumpers and truck parts—do to deserve camera crews and Blumenfeld’s smiling face at its door so early in the morning?
First, the company took its lead anodes at the facility and switched them for graphite ones. It replaced the hexavalent chromium bath with more environmentally friendly trivalent chromium. The EPA says the changes have resulted in the reduction of these chemicals by 9,000 lbs per year.
In addition to altering the materials used, Valley Chrome made changes so that it now discharges zero wastewater to the public sewers through recycling, and installed underground plumbing that captures roof run-off from the facility for re-use. This system collects up to 100,000 gal of rain water, which is then used by the facility as part of its cleaning and finishing processes.
Valley Chrome also installed ion exchange waste reduction systems in its manufacturing and plating operations, further reducing pollution associated with trivalent chromium as well as nickel plating.
But Lucas and Valley Chrome didn’t need the EPA to tell them they were doing a great—and responsible—job with their business and the environment.
“We get a lot of wows ... a lot of people that are just really amazed that we have an external automotive part and we’ve been successful in running a tri-chrome system,” says James Galvan, Valley Chrome’s plating supervisor.
Lucas, who has been a leader in the plating industry for years, says he embraced the changes.
“We spent about two years researching it and decided to switch to trivalent chrome,” he says. “The trivalent chromium process is more expensive than hexavalent, but some of the labor issues with employees are less.”
Says Galvan, “To make the change out, we actually worked two shifts, basically around the clock. I think we completed it in five days. It was kind of an ‘Extreme Makeover: Plating Edition.’”
Lucas doesn’t need EPA administrators to give him awards to feel good about how he runs his shop, but it sure is nice when they do notice.