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Newport plant registers cancer risk reading

Air quality agency says the level is 'unacceptably high' but cautions residents not to be too alarmed.

April 02, 2014|By Jessica Garrison and Jill Cowan | This post has been corrected, as noted below.

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 agency said it will ask its independent hearing board to order Hixson Metal Finishing to reduce its emissions of Chromium 6 "on an expedited schedule."

The plant is located in a partly residential neighborhood near the border with Costa Mesa, directly adjacent to an apartment building. Monitoring instruments that the South Coast Air Quality Management District installed across the street from the plant found a cancer risk of up to 540 in a million. From the roof of the carport at the apartment building, the risk was up to 375 in a million.

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"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 Greene said the company will work with the air district on a plan to comply with pollution rules. Green said the company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 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 he's witnessed other businesses in the area "doing things we wouldn't do."

Air district officials said they are sure the chromium is coming from Hixson because monitors inside the facility have 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 rest of the Los Angeles basin because the overall air quality in Newport Beach is so much better, they said.

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

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

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