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Autobody Shops & Air Pollution

Updated May 20, 2002

May 20, 2002 Update:

In the late 1990's NeighborhoodNet was able to determine that extremely toxic chemicals, zinc chromate and lead chromate, were being emitted by a local autobody paint shop in minute quantities. At the time, it was unclear whether these minute quantities caused a health risk and a reasonable person could argue that they did not.

However, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) has now determined that these chemicals, along with another chemical, cadmium, are so carcinogenic that even minute amounts pose an unacceptable risk. In its news release, the California Air Resources Board stated:

“The elimination of these two substances from automotive coatings will reduce the significant cancer risk that occurs at low exposure levels. This reduction will go a long way in protecting public health, especially those who live near auto body repair and paint shops.”

Since Kansas does not ban the use of these two chemicals and paint manufacturers do not have to list them among their ingredients, it is no longer reasonable to build or let operate autobody paintshops near neighborhoods. Another study provided to NeighborhoodNet shows that there is increased risk to children who live next to autobody paint shops. For a more complete discussion see this article.

[April, 2002, Update: The EPA has requested that additional information it has developed on autobody emissions and related topics be published on NeighborhoodNet, which is happy to do so. See this article for links to the new information. The site is located at]

Historical Reports - Conclusions Superceded By Above

From early 1997 to late 1998, NeighborhoodNet worked with various government agencies to determine the health effects of emissions from two autobody paintshops in south Johnson County, KS. The focus was on emissions into the air. These emissions can be in the form of particles or aerosols.

It was determined that lead chromate, which is extremely toxic, is being emitted. Lead chromate falls into a category of chemicals called hexavalent chromium compounds. It also contains lead.

However, a study provided by the Johnson County Environmental Department shows that the quantities being emitted are extremely low and that estimates of concentrations over a nearby day care center are 10's of millions of times less than what would be a concern. Willy Peterson, an environmental specialist in the Kansas City area, was kind enough to review the study and says it is "good and thorough".

It should be noted that no study was done to determine whether any of the toxic chemicals emitted by the paint shop would accumulate in the surrounding soil or be washed downstream by water runoff.

According to California's Proposition 65 list of toxic chemicals, lead chromate is a:

  • Carcinogen (causes cancer, in this case lung and kidney cancer)
  • Developmental toxicant (defined as inducing structural malformations and other birth defects, low birth weight, metabolic or biological dysfunction, and psychological or behavioral deficits that become manifest as the child grows)
  • Reproductive toxicant (causes adverse effects on the male and female reproductive systems).

According to the Swedish National Chemicals Inspectorate it is also a suspected immunotoxin (adversely affects the immune system).

The likelihood of these effects occuring depends on concentrations to which a population is exposed. In its analysis, the Johnson County Environmental Department indicates the concentrations emitted are so low as to be harmless. Although there are some (I among them) who believe such chemicals as lead chromate should not be emitted at all, the JCED study was well done and a reasonable person could conclude the emissions in this case are harmless.

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The following are some of the more substantive articles about this subject. [See also Automalls and Topic Cross Reference - Air Pollution]

Autobody Shops Throughout The Kansas City Metro Area: Map Allows Neighborhoods To Zoom Down To Their Area And Identify Autobody Shops

Environmental Specialist Reviews AutoBody Emissions Report: JCED Study "good and thorough"

Response To JCED Study: Well done, shows there is no danger from autobody emissions

Autobody Shop Study: Johnson County Environmental Department provides analysis of emissions.

The Toxicity Of Hexavalent Chromium Compounds: Focuses On Exposure Standards

JCED's Letter On Autobody Shops: Preliminary Analysis Covers Lead Chromate, NeighborhoodNet Statements That Are "Simply Not True", Interviews With Shop Owners

NeighborhoodNet's Response To JCED Letter

Diane Stewart Voices Opinion On Pollution Issue: Diane is a Sierra Club member, an environmental activist, and served on the Johnson County Citizen's Visioning Committee.

Toxic Emissions From Autobody Shops Identified: Commissioner Annabeth Surbaugh and Director Doug Smith Deserve Thanks

[updated article] California Comments On Metcalf Autobody Emissions: Will Review Dispersion Study

Information On Toxic Chemicals Used By Autobody Paintshop Now Available: Johnson County Environmental Department Provides Material Safety Data Sheets

Environmental Department On Metcalf Autobody Emissions: Director Philip J. Wittek Provides Additional Information

Kansas Models Pollutant Concentrations Near Auto Body Shop: Study Predicts Low Levels Of Toluene

AutoBody Paintshop Approved Near 162nd And Metcalf

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