Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
Workplace Safety Division
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
Hexavalent Chromium, or Cr(VI), is a compound commonly used to create pigments in dyes, paints, primers, inks and plastics. To prevent corrosion, Hexavalent Chromium is an added element to paints, primers and other surface coatings. It is also a component in the production of stainless steel, leather tanning and wood preservation.
Hexavalent Chromium is also a cancer-causing hazard currently reported at 34 U.S. Army installations. Instances of where the hazard is found in Army operations is aircraft maintenance including brazing, soldering, welding, and cutting; coating and painting operations and metal treatment and metal machining.
The U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center highly encourages organizations to conduct an assessment to determine whether Cr(VI) is present in a workplace. Resources to help do this include a Hazard Communication Program and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs). Safety professionals should conduct a thorough review of these tools as well as take a comprehensive look at the processes in their workplaces to determine if exposure to this hazard exists (e.g., welding on stainless steel, electroplating, chrome stripping, etc.). It is imperative that Army organizations with work processes involving Hexavalent Chromium conduct a workplace assessment that includes evaluating and updating their standard operating procedure (SOP).
Individuals could inhale Hexavalent Chromium via airborne dust, fumes or mist. Cr(VI) can also be ingested via food, drinks, cosmetics and cigarettes contaminated with the chemical. Family members of employees risk exposure to the chemical from contaminated clothing and articles brought home from work. Daily housekeeping procedures in the workplace reduce the chances of contamination.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease, the primary health hazards associated with exposure to Hexavalent Chromium include:
Cancer: Studies of workers in the chromate production, plating and pigment industries consistently show increased rates of lung cancer. It also causes irritation of the lungs.
Eyes: Direct eye contact with chromic acid or chromate dusts can cause irritation and/or permanent eye damage.
Respiratory tract: Hexavalent Chromium can irritate the nose, throat and lungs. Repeated or prolonged exposure can damage the mucous membranes of the nasal passages and result in ulcers. In severe cases, exposures may cause perforation of the septum (the wall separating the nasal passages).
Although the OSHA standard (29 CFR 1910.1026) does not cover airborne exposures to Hexavalent Chromium in Portland cement (air sampling has shown concentrations below the action level), specific permissible exposure limits (PEL) do exist for Portland cement. Appropriate personal protective equipment, or PPE use, availability of washing facilities and hazard communication requirements still apply.
If you suspect or have identified a potential of Hexavalent Chromium exposures, it is best to eliminate it and/or substitute it with something less toxic. However, if Hexavalent Chromium is essential to your operation, consider a hierarchy of controls to decrease, prevent, or mitigate the potential increased Cr(VI) exposures. This will include engineering controls, administrative controls and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Conducting medical surveillance is vital to evaluate efficacy of controls and to inform leadership of the necessary corrective actions needed to protect workers.
Contact your local industrial hygienist office for further assistance with determining your exposures and eliminating Hexavalent Chromium hazards. If you are successful in eliminating Cr(VI) from your workplace, this will help minimize the compliance burden with 29 CFR 1910.1026 and DoDI 6055.01 Appendix to Enclosure 4.