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Chromium Hexavalent

The New OSHA Standard

On Febuary 28, 2006 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) amended the existing standard on hexavalent chromium [Cr(VI)]. The standard reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for Cr(VI) from 52 to 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air on an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA).

The new standard was felt necessary since OSHA had determined that the previous PEL for Cr(VI) posed a significant risk to workers' health. This is primarily a result of epidemiologic studies that have consistently shown a link between exposure to hexavalent chromium compounds and excess lung cancers. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the International Agency on the Research of Cancer (IARC) have all determined that hexavalent chromium causes cancer in humans. In addition to lung cancer, hexavalent chromium compounds can also cause mucous membrane and skin ulcers and perforations of the nasal septum.

What Is Hexavalent Chromium?

Hexavalent chromium is a compound widely used in metal fabricating, chrome plating, stainless steel welding, ferrochromium alloy production and wood preserving. Cr(VI) compounds are used most commonly as a structural and anticorrosive element in stainless steel, iron, and steel production and in welding and painting. Cr(VI) is also found in dyes for textiles and brick, Portland cement, and colored glass and block, among other things.

Occupational exposures to Cr(VI) can occur from inhaling its mist (such as from chrome plating), dusts [including inorganic pigments or Cr(VI)-painted surfaces], or fumes (as in stainless steel welding) and from dermal contact. Exposure to Cr(VI) has been linked conclusively to lung cancer, asthma, kidney damage, nasal ulcerations and perforations, skin ulcerations (or chrome holes), and allergic and irritant contact dermatitis.

Hexavalent chromium has also been associated with several skin disorders, ranging from irritation to ulcers. In the case of Portland cement, brick masons sometimes contract allergic dermatitis from wet cement, causing their skin to burn and crack.

Who is at risk?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that, across all industries, approximately one million workers are exposed to hexavalent chromium on a regular basis. Workers are potentially exposed to hexavalent chromium compounds when involved in the production and/or use of chromate pigments, chromium catalysts, chromate paints and coatings, printing inks, plastic colorants, electroplating chemicals, wood preserving chemicals, leather tanning chemicals, textile dyes, and industrial water treatment products. Workers that cut or weld stainless steel or handle refractory bricks may also be exposed to hexavalent chromium.

How the New Standard Affects Your Company

To comply with the current OSHA standards, facilities handling any form of hexavalent chromium must know their employees' exposure levels. Facilities may also need to implement engineering controls or changes in work practices to be in compliance with the lower PEL and AL.

Specifically relating to this standard, employers are required to:

When Is the New Standard Effective?

OSHA believes that it's appropriate to allow time for employers, particularly small employers, to meet the requirements of the final rule. To this end:

What's the First Step?

The first step in the process is to determine the needs of your organization. Indoor Environment Group provides free initial consultations during which we can outline what steps your organization will need to take to comply with the new standard. We can then assist you with anything from the sampling itself to the entire process from the exposure assessment to employee training.

If we can't help you due to time or geography we'll help you find someone that can. Our primary service area includes Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida and Iowa but we are very competitive throughout the county so don't hesitate to give us a call.

Contact us to today to schedule your free initial consultation.