Hexavalent Chromium

Hexavalent Chromium

Hexavalent chromium is a heavy metal used in pigments, leather tanning, electroplating, metal processing, wood preservation, and in alloys such as stainless steel.

How am I exposed?

Exposure to hexavalent chromium occurs through breathing, ingestion, and contact with the skin. Hexavalent chromium enters drinking water sources through discharges of dye and paint pigments, wood preservatives, chrome plating wastes, and leaching from hazardous waste sites.

Not surprisingly, communities near chromium waste disposal sites or chromium manufacturing and processing plants are at particular risk of exposure.

Probably the most impacted people are workers exposed on the job.

Why should I be concerned?

Hexavalent chromium is a known human carcinogen. Hexavalent chromium may be deadly if exposure is at high levels or if a person exposed to even low levels has sensitivities to chromium compounds. Others can experience allergic reactions or occupational asthma following exposure. Those who work directly with chromium  in chrome plating, paint or cement production and in construction are of particular concern, due to potentially high exposure levels.

What can government and business do?

Federal and state governments can:

    • set enforceable drinking water standards that differentiate between the toxic (hexavalent) form and non toxic forms of chromium;
    • identify the most efficient and cost effective water treatment technologies to address multiple contaminants.
    • OSHA has taken certain steps to protect employees from health hazards caused by hexavalent chromium, however, these standards can be updated to further prevent occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium.

Businesses can:

  • Use alternatives, including  trivalent chromium (which is less toxic than hexavalent chromium); nickel-iron-cobalt, zinc-nickel, and zinc-cobalt alloys; other high performance topcoats; electroless nickel; electroplated nickel; and nickel-tungsten plating.

How can I reduce my exposure?

  • Avoiding exposure to hexavalent chromium is difficult as most of the exposure comes from sources that are out of our control (i.e. leaching of chemicals from nearby businesses). However, if your home is not on a public water system, have your water tested for hexavalent chromium.
  • Workers should also be sure to follow OSHA’s standards for protecting themselves against exposure to dangerous levels of hexavalent chromium as well as make sure that their workplace meets those standards.
Additional Resources

OSHA Fact Sheet: Health Effects of Hexavalent Chromium

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