Michigan Environmental Advocates Demand Automakers Cease Use of Hexavalent Chromium

Since the 1990s, the Ecology Center has advocated for the use of safer alternatives in place of hexavalent chromium in industry; the recent dump demonstrates the chemical’s destructive power 

Ann Arbor, MI, August 11, 2022 —In response to the chemical dump that shut down use of the Huron River and threatens the drinking water of more than 100,000 people, the Ecology Center, Michigan environmental advocates, and community members are calling on automakers to stop using toxic hexavalent chromium in vehicle production. Hexavalent chromium  (chromium-6) is a toxic carcinogen which requires the use of toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which have also contaminated the Huron River–a toxic double whammy from the same company, Tribar Manufacturing. 

In an open letter to the CEOs of Ford Motor Company, Toyota, General Motors, Stellantis, and Rivian, environmental and public health organizations wrote: 

“We call on your companies to immediately cease doing business with, or utilizing parts from any supplier using hexavalent chromium, including Tribar. These facilities violate industry supply chain standards and endanger worker and environmental health.” 

Safer alternatives are available for chrome plating, which is what hexavalent chromium is currently used for in auto manufacturing. Tribar Manufacturing, the company responsible for leaking thousands of gallons of hexavalent chromium solution into the Huron River through the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant, is reportedly a parts supplier for major auto manufacturing companies, including Ford, GM, Toyota, Stellantis, Rivian, and other companies.  

“The continued use of toxic hexavalent chromium is a crass marketing decision that endangers worker health and safety, and the environment. The auto industry acknowledges the hazard of hexavalent chromium and has made great progress in eliminating its use on bolts and fasteners. However, it’s still used extensively in decorative chrome plating,” said Jeff Gearhart, research director of the Ecology Center. “It’s past time for the automotive industry to cease all use of this toxic chemical and move to already available safer alternatives.”

An industry-wide global phase-out of hexavalent chromium began in 2000 with the adoption of the European Union’s End of Life Vehicle Directive, which restricted its use in the auto industry, leading to an outright ban of the chemical in Europe by 2007. The chemical has also been restricted by other major players, including the Department of Defense, which limited its use in 2011; the European Union, which completely banned it in all industries in 2017; the U.S. Army, which banned its use in 2021; and the State of California, whose ban will be finalized by 2024

The open letter to automakers calling for the discontinuation of hexavalent chromium, signed on by 18 environmental and justice organizations, can be viewed here. A petition for community residents to also sign on to demand change is available here.

“Tribar continues to show what an irresponsible company they are by releasing their toxins into our waterways for the second time in two years," said local resident Tiffany Stewart, who lives near the factory. “Given the automakers’ reported commitment to sustainability, I am appalled that they continue to work with such an environmentally irresponsible company, and with other suppliers that are still using outdated, extremely toxic plating methods.”

“The hexavalent chromium spill on top of the earlier PFAS contamination from Tribar highlights just how broken our laws are in Michigan and the federal level that regulate the use of chemicals in manufacturing and consumer products,” said Gearhart. “Industries move from one toxic chemical to another and release those hazardous chemicals into our water and air with virtual impunity. Until our state and federal lawmakers step up, we are relying on industry leaders to prohibit the use of these toxic substances.”

###

The Ecology Center is a non-profit environmental advocacy organization, established in 1970, with offices in Ann Arbor and Detroit. The Ecology Center develops innovative solutions for healthy people and a healthy planet.  We educate consumers to help keep their families healthy and safe; push corporations to use clean energy, make safe products, and provide healthy food; provide people with innovative services that promote healthy people and a healthy planet; and work with policymakers to establish laws that protect communities and the environment. For more information visit www.ecocenter.org and follow @Ecology_Center