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CHROMIUM 6 DISCOVERED AT PLANT 42 FIND BELOW HARMFUL LEVEL.

Byline: Charles F. Bostwick Staff Writer

PALMDALE - Concentrations of chromium 6 - the chemical villain in the ``Erin Brockovich'' movie - have been found in the soil at Air Force Plant 42, where it is used as an undercoating for metal aircraft parts.

Though an Air Force consultant says the discoveries rank below the level which the federal government considers potentially harmful, more testing and analysis will be done.

``We will be over the next couple months doing a more detailed risk assessment,'' said John Lovenburg, a hydro-geologist with CH2M HILL, a consulting firm hired by the Air Force to help study industrial contamination at Plant 42.

Chromium 6 test results are scheduled to be discussed during a meeting of the Air Force Plant 42 Environmental Restoration Advisory Board, which will meet from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Antelope Valley Inn Spring Room, 44055 Sierra Highway, Lancaster.

Advisory board members had asked for the information, prompted by recent controversy over chromium 6 in drinking water supplies in the Antelope Valley and elsewhere in California, and by the ``Erin Brockovich'' movie, officials said.

Most of the dozens of soil samples taken around the 5,800-acre installation showed chromium 6 levels at a fraction of the EPA's ``preliminary remedial goal'' of 64 milligrams per kilogram for industrial areas, Air Force records noted.

But at a disposal area on the plant's Site 2, an assembly complex off Avenue M now used by Lockheed Martin, chromium 6 was found in soil 5 feet deep at concentrations of 44.13 milligrams per kilogram.

The disposal area adjoins a building in which aircraft are painted, Lovenburg said. A substance called alodine, which contains chromium 6, is sprayed on metal aircraft surfaces before painting, he said.

Plant 42 monitoring wells also have found chromium 6 in groundwater at about the same range of concentrations it turned up recently in public water wells in Lancaster and Palmdale - 4 parts per billion to 20 parts per billion.

While the tests showed chromium 6 is present, and provided estimated concentrations, Lovenburg said the amounts are too small to be measured accurately by current analytical technology.

By comparison, contamination ranged up to 24,000 parts per billion in well water in the San Bernardino County town of Hinkley, about which the ``Erin Brockovich'' movie was made. The chromium 6 there came from Pacific Gas and Electric cooling towers.

Experts differ in their estimation of the hazard posed by chromium 6. The federal Environmental Protection Agency does not regard it as a carcinogen when swallowed - as in drinking water - just when inhaled, like in metal-plating plants.

The California EPA's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, however, says it is safer to assume that a substance that is carcinogenic when breathed is also carcinogenic when swallowed.

Neither the state nor the federal government at present regulates chromium 6 in drinking water. They regulate it only as it is combined with other less toxic forms of chromium, mainly chromium 3 - an essential nutrient for the human body.

Chromium 6 has been used for decades in the aircraft industry as a primer for corrosion resistance on metal parts, UCLA researcher John Froines said.

``Every airplane that's made is spray painted with chromium 6,'' said Froines, director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health and a professor at the UCLA School of Public Health.

Present methods for handling the substance appear safe, but contamination turning up in soil and water now may be the result of laxer practices in the past, he said.

``They know it's dangerous,'' said Froines, who said his research shows the chemical can cause stomach cancer when swallowed. ``The problem is what went on in 1970.''

Its use in other industries has dropped dramatically in recent years, because of the costs associated with handling it as a toxic waste, but the aircraft industry has not found a suitable substitute, Froines said.

MEETING

--Air Force Plant 42 Environmental Restoration Advisory Board will meet from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Antelope Valley Inn's Spring Room, 44055 Sierra Highway, Lancaster. The group will listen to a report on chromium 6 testing in soil and groundwater under the installation. The meeting is open to the public.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 12, 2000
Words:716
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