Hexavalent Chromium

What Is Hexavalent Chromium? Hexavalent Chromium Fumes are Unbreathable

Hexavalent chromium (hex chrome) is the toxic form of the metal chromium. A byproduct of industrial processes, high temperatures oxidize chromium and convert it into the hexavalent state. 

Industries that weld, grind or sand chromium coated materials produce hexavalent chromium fumes, putting their workers at risk. The most common of these materials include stainless steel, galvanized steel and carbon steel with a high carbon content. Occupations that are at risk of exposure to hexavalent chromium include:

  • steel, alloy and arc welding
  • steel manufacturing
  • electroplating
  • thermal spraying
  • painting and pigment applications
  • surface coating processes
  • power plant combustion

As many as 558,000 workers throughout the United States are exposed to hex chrome on a routine basis.

Health Risks

When inhaled, hexavalent chromium poses multiple health risks to workers in industrial settings, including:

  • Respiratory irritation
  • Severe nasal and skin ulcerations and lesions
  • Liver and kidney failure
  • Birth defects
  • Allergy symptoms (wheezing, shortness of breath)
  • Nasal sores and perforation of the membrane separating the nostril
  • Eye irritation and damage
  • Perforated eardrums
  • Pulmonary congestion and edema
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Erosion and discoloration of the teeth

A known carcinogen, long-term exposure to hexavalent chromium can also lead to lung and nasal cancers.

Putting Communities at Risk

Hexavalent chromium fumes do more than jeopardize worker health. When not properly contained, hex chrome also puts the health of local communities at risk.

Without proper controls in place, hexavalent chromium can escape into the neighboring air, soil and water. Children who play outside in dirt contaminated with hexavalent chromium then later touch their mouths, nose and eyes are likely to become exposed.

Those who ingest water tainted with hex chrome are also at risk of developing stomach cancer as well as reproductive problems. Exposing skin to hexavalent chromium can cause non-allergic skin irritation and “chrome ulcers”- small, crusted lesions that scar and are slow to heal.

OSHA Recommendations for Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL)

Because it poses such an urgent threat to worker health, OSHA has workplace standards for regulating hexavalent chromium. As of 2006, OSHA regulations state:

  • Employers must ensure their workers are exposed to an air concentration of no more than 5 micrograms of hex chrome per cubic meter of air (5 µg/m3) on an 8-hour time weighted average.
  • The preferred method of controlling hexavalent chromium fumes is capture-at-source ventilation.
  • Provisions must be in place for protective work clothing, equipment, hygiene, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, hazard communication and record keeping.

For more information on OSHA regulations, visit OSHA Resources:  Hexavalent Chromium.

Workplace Solutions to Prevent Exposure

At Diversitech, we understand the real hazard hexavalent chromium poses to worker health. We provide a number of filtration and ventilation solutions designed for the safe control of hex chrome fumes. Our downdraft tables, downdraft booths and portable fume extractors, all effectively capture hex chrome and prevent it from contaminating your workplace environment.

Every one of our hexavalent chromium filtration and ventilation products meet regulatory guidelines. Contact one of our representatives today to find the perfect equipment to fill your needs.

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