Any day now, more than 2,000+ electroplating shops will get a letter from the U.S. EPA asking them to take an extensive survey called “Chrome Finishing Industry Data Collection.”

It’s the EPA’s planned revision of its metal finishing guidelines to address discharges of PFAS from a shop’s wastewater system. It's about 84 questions and could take some time to answer. Good luck with that.

Over the past 12 months, I’ve tried talking to the EPA person who played a major role in the survey. I thought it would be a great idea for our readers and the EPA to get as much info out to the industry about what the survey entailed and how best to answer the questions.

At least, I thought it was a good idea; apparently, Dr. Phillip Flanders doesn’t. The EPA’s lead person on this effort hasn’t returned my numerous calls or emails asking to discuss the survey and give shops a heads-up on what to expect. Apparently, he is working diligently on the seven dozen or more questions the EPA will ask, or he prefers not to want to be transparent about what all this government activity entails.

Pay $900 to Hear Information?

I should note that Dr. Flanders was available to speak to the industry if you ponied up some huge amount of coin and traveled to industry conferences in Chicago, Cleveland, or Washington D.C., where an industry trade association had invited him to speak. There was an admission fee for all those events — $700+ in Cleveland and almost $900 for the D.C. event, which didn’t include flying there and then staying at the Ritz Carlton, where the event was held.

But it wouldn’t have mattered to me anyway, even if I wanted to pay a chunk of change to hear Dr. Flanders speak since the plating industry group has barred me from attending any of these conferences where anyone from the EPA or any other agency speaks. It’s a new rule they put in a year or two ago, and I hope it’s going well for them to keep all that vital information behind closed doors.

I will say that whenever I phoned Dr. Flanders or emailed him to discuss the survey, it was always followed up by a very nice person from the EPA media relations office who asked how they may help. When I last chatted with them, I made it clear that I wished to speak to the good doctor to have a discourse with him on the upcoming plating and PFAS survey.

“We are unable to accommodate an interview at this time,” the very nice Public Affairs Officer wrote to me after my last attempt to corral the elusive Dr. Flanders. That left me to ask the person: is it the EPA or Dr. Flanders who doesn’t want to speak to me about the survey?

“Because of scheduling restraints, the subject matter expert you requested is not available for an interview at this time,” was the response from the extremely polite EPA media rep.

Contact: Dr. Phillip Flanders

Apparently, Dr. Flanders has had a time restraint for the past 12 months since I began leaving a few messages and also reaching out to him at the email address that is listed in bold on the official EPA documents that said: “For Further Information Contact: Dr. Phillip Flanders.”

My goal in speaking with Dr. Flanders was to help our readers in the finishing industry better understand the survey's scope and keep them abreast of when it might appear on their doorstep. It would have been nice to get a few minutes of Dr. Flanders's time — without having to pay $900 to hear him speak — but I think we still kept the finishing industry up to date and informed of this project.

This isn’t the first time someone has avoided me, and it probably won’t be the last. But I think Dr. Flanders could have helped his and the EPA’s cause by talking to the finishing industry and working to build trust, understanding, and transparency.

Tim Pennington, Editor-in-chief

TPennington 3Tim Pennington is Editor-in-Chief of Finishing and Coating, and has covered the industry since 2010. He has traveled extensively throughout North America visiting shops and production facilities, and meeting those who work in the industry. Tim began his career in the newspaper industry, then wound itself between the sports field with the PGA Tour and marketing and communications firms, and finally back into the publishing world in the finishing and coating sector. If you want to reach Tim, just go here.

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