The term 'hexavalent chromium' is used with reference to compounds of the element chromium that contain the element in its oxidation state of +6. These include chromium trioxide, sodium dichromate, and a large number of other chromate and dichromate salts.
Among all these compounds, chromium trioxide is highly toxic in nature, and is recognized as an environmental hazard. This compound can be described as an anhydride of chromic acid.
Every year, several tons of this compound is produced for the purpose of various important industrial uses. Exposure to this compound poses several health risks due to its carcinogenic properties and toxic nature.
Exposure to Hexavalent Chromium
These compounds enter the human body mainly through inhalation - in the form of dust, fume, or mist. People who work in industries where these compounds are used are at a high risk of developing certain serious health problems due to exposure. They are mainly exposed to 'hexavalent chromium' in any of the following ways.
- During the production of chemicals like chromate pigments and chromic acid
- Working in close proximity of chrome electroplating
- While welding stainless steel, chrome coated metals, or chrome alloys
- At the time of application or removal of paints with chromate content.
The symptoms that might appear due to exposure to these compounds include: running nose, coughing, sneezing, irritation, and burning sensation in the throat. On prolonged exposure, perforation on the nasal septum (the wall between the nasal passages) can occur.
Some people tend to become allergic and can show signs of asthma, wheezing, and shortness of breath. The element can come in direct contact with the skin in case of people who handle solids and liquids with chromium content. As a result of the skin contact, swelling, itching, skin rashes, and reddening of the skin is observed.
The extent of damage that it can cause to a person's health depends upon the amount of time the person is exposed and the concentration level of the chemical. It can lead to lung cancer in those who inhale the fumes.
Inhalation of such compounds for a long duration can lead to an extensive damage to the nose, throat, and lungs. Severe damage to the eyes could occur if the eyes are exposed to concentrated chromium. People who are involved with various types of welding work are susceptible to damage to the eyes.
If there is direct contact with the skin, a non-allergic skin reaction called allergic contact dermatitis can be observed. The formation of chrome ulcers is also possible. These sores take a long time to heal and often leave behind permanent scars.
Taking precautionary measures is the only way to protect people from exposure. People who work in industries where they could get exposed to these compounds should be provided with adequate clothing and equipment, which can minimize the exposure. They should undergo regular medical checkups and be administered proper treatment on time, if found exposed.