Hexavalent Chromium – What You Need to Know

Trivalent and hexavalent chromium are the two common forms of the element. This is chromium(VI) oxide. (BXXXD)
Trivalent and hexavalent chromium are the two common forms of the element. This is chromium(VI) oxide. (BXXXD)

Hexavalent chromium is a toxic metal you can be exposed to that can cause serious health effects. Here is what hexavalent chromium is, what it does, and how to protect yourself against it.

Other Names for Hexavalent Chromium

Hexavalent chromium is also known as Cr(VI), Cr-6, chromium-6, Hex Chrom, Hex Chrome, and HexChrome.

What Is Hexavalent Chromium?

Hexavalent chromium or chromium-6 is one form of the transition metal chromium. The other main forms are trrivalent chromium or chromium-3 and chromium metal or chromium-0. The element occurs naturally in minerals, foods, and some drinking water and is used to harden steel, make it stainless, color glass, and for other industrial purposes.

How Can I Get Exposed To Chromium?

Trace amount of chromium (as chromium-3) are needed in your diet for fat and sugar metabolism. This form of the element is found in meat, yeast, fruits, vegetables, grains, and in nutritional supplements. While it is possible to get too much chromium-3, trivalent chromium has a low toxicity.

Chromium-6 and its compounds, on the other hand, are toxic. The greatest risk of exposure to hexavalent chromium comes from working in industries that use the metal. The following occupations are associated with a high risk of chromium-6 exposure:

  • stainless steel fabrication
  • electroplating (chrome plating baths)
  • welding (especially stainless steel)
  • applying heavy-duty paints, primers, and spray paints (e.g., for cars, boats)
  • producing chrome-based pigments
  • leather tanning
  • wood preservation

Health Effects of Hexavalent Chromium

The reactivity that makes chromium-6 so useful in industry also makes it extremely reactive in the body. Inhaling or ingesting hexavalent chromium can cause cancer and brain damage. Hexavalent chromium targets and damages the kidneys, liver, respiratory system, skin, and eyes. Chromium-6 can cause dermatitis, discolored teeth, nosebleeds, difficulty breathing, tremors, sexual dysfunction, difficulty walking, problems controlling emotions and other indications of exposure.

How Do I Protect Myself Against Hexavalent Chromium?

Respirators can protect you against inhaling chromium-6. Dilution ventilation may be used to lower the concentration of hexavalent chromium in air. Water filters can remove the metal from drinking water.