Hexavalent Chromium – General Information
This handout is part of a series intended to help small businesses comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) standard 29 CFR 1910.1026, Chromium (VI) that applies to occupational exposures to chromium (VI), known as Hexavalent Chromium. Workers exposed to chromium (VI) are at increased risk of developing serious adverse health effects, including lung cancer, asthma, and damage to the nasal passages and skin. The handout provides OSHA information that employers should know to help protect workers from the hazards associated with exposure to chromium (VI).
Hexavalent chromium is a toxic form of the element chromium. Chromium (VI) compounds are man-made and widely used in many different industries. Some major industrial sources of hexavalent chromium are:
Chromate pigments in dyes, paints, inks, and plastics.
Chromates added as anti-corrosive agents to paints, primers, and other surface coatings.
Chrome plating by depositing chromium metal onto an item’s surface using a solution of chromic acid.
Particles released during smelting of ferrochromium ore.
Fume from welding stainless steel or nonferrous chromium alloys.
Impurity present in Portland cement.
Workplace Exposure and Possible Health Effects
Skin exposure can occur during direct handling of hexavalent chromium-containing solutions and coatings, and Portland cement. Some workers can develop an allergic skin reaction, called allergic contact dermatitis. This occurs from handling liquids or solids containing chromium (VI). Once a worker becomes allergic, brief skin contact causes swelling and a red, itchy rash that becomes crusty and thickened with prolonged exposure. Allergic contact dermatitis is long-lasting and more severe with repeated skin contact. Direct skin contact with chromium (VI) can cause a non-allergic skin irritation. Contact with non-intact skin can also lead to chrome ulcers – these are small crusted skin sores with a rounded border that heal slowly and leave scars.
Lung cancer may develop in workers who breathe airborne hexavalent chromium. Breathing in high levels of hexavalent chromium can cause irritation to the nose and throat. Symptoms may include runny nose, sneezing, coughing, itching and a burning sensation. Repeated or prolonged exposure can cause sores to develop in the nose and result in nosebleeds. If the damage is severe, the nasal septum (wall separating the nasal passages) develops a hole in it (perforation).
Breathing small amounts of hexavalent chromium even for long periods does not cause respiratory tract irritation in most people. Some workers become allergic to hexavalent chromium so that inhaling chromate compounds can cause asthma symptoms, such as wheezing and shortness of breath.
Workers can inhale airborne hexavalent chromium as a dust, fume, or mist while:
Producing chromate pigments and powders, chromic acid, and chromium catalysts, dyes, and coatings.
Working near chrome electroplating processes.
Welding and hot-working stainless steel, high chrome alloys, and chrome-coated metals.
Applying and removing chromate-containing paints and other surface coatings.
Also, irritation or damage to the eyes and skin may occur if hexavalent chromium contacts the eyes and skin in high concentrations.
OSHA’s Workplace Standard Requires Employers To:
Limit eight-hour time-weighted average hexavalent chromium exposure in the workplace to 5 micrograms or less per cubic meter of air.
Perform periodic monitoring at least every 6 months if initial monitoring shows worker exposure at or above the action level (2.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air calculated as an 8-hour time-weighted average).
Provide appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment when there is likely to be a hazard present from skin or eye contact.
Implement good personal hygiene and housekeeping practices to prevent hexavalent chromium exposure.
Prohibit worker rotation as a method to achieve compliance with the exposure limit.
Provide respiratory protection as specified in the standard.
Make available medical examinations to workers within 30 days of initial assignment, annually, to those exposed in an emergency situation, to those who experience signs or symptoms of adverse health effects associated with hexavalent chromium exposure, to those who are or may be exposed at or above the action level for 30 or more days a year, and at termination of employment.
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