Chromium is a steel gray, lustrous, hard metal extracted from chromite ores. In 2011, US production of chromium was estimated at 160,000 metric tons, coming almost entirely from recycling stainless steel scraps. In addition, the U.S. imported 430,000 metric tons of chromium, primarily from South Africa, Kazakhstan, Russia and China. Chromium is valued for its high corrosion resistance and hardness. It is most often used as an alloy (ferrochrome) in stainless steel and in chrome plating. In addition, chromium is used in the pigment and dye, tanning, and glassmaking industries, in reflective paints, for wood preservation, to anodize aluminum, to produce synthetic rubies, as a catalyst in chemical manufacturing and as an isotope in medicine. Elemental chromium is seldom found naturally in the environment. The oxidized states of chromium III and chromium VI are the most important forms of the chemical. Chromium III is an essential trace element in humans but chronic exposure may be harmful. Chromium VI (hexavalent chromium) is the oxidized state of principal concern in occupational safety and health and the environment because of its extreme toxicity and designation as a human carcinogen. OSHA's hexavalent chromium safety and health topics page provides comprehensive information on health effects, exposure controls, OSHA standards, and additional resources on this toxic substance.
Who is exposed to the common forms of chromium?
Occupational exposures to chromium occur primarily in the metal and chemical manufacturing industries, although exposures are also possible in other industries where chromium compounds are used.
Occupational exposure to chromium can occur in the following industries and operations:
- Stainless steel welding [Cr(VI)]
- Chromate production [Cr(VI)]
- Chrome plating [Cr(VI)]
- Ferrochrome industry [Cr(III) and Cr(VI)]
- Chrome pigments [Cr(III) and Cr(VI)]
- Leather tanning [mostly Cr(III)]
Occupations that may involve chromium exposures include:
- Painters [Cr(III) and Cr(VI)]
- Abrasive blasting workers [Cr(III) and Cr(VI)]
- Workers involved in the maintenance and servicing of copying machines and the disposal of some toner powders from copying machines [Cr(VI)]
- Battery makers [Cr(VI)]
- Candle makers [Cr(III) and Cr(VI)]
- Dye makers [Cr(III)]
- Printers [Cr(III) and Cr(VI)]
- Rubber makers [Cr(III) and Cr(VI)]
- Cement workers [Cr(III) and Cr(VI)]
- Workers involved in welding, cutting, brazing, soldering, torch and other hot work operations. [Cr(III) and Cr(VI)]
OSHA sets enforceable permissible exposure limits (PELs) to protect workers from the health effects of exposure to chromium metal and various chromium compounds under 1910.1000 Table Z-1 Limits for Air Contaminants. The most toxic form of chromium is hexavalent chromium. OSHA requirements for protecting workers from hexavalent chromium exposure are found in specific OSHA standards covering general industry (Chromium (VI) - 1910.1026), shipyards (Chromium (VI) - 1915.1026), and construction (Chromium (VI) - 1926.1126).
Additional Resources for Chromium
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hazard summary fact sheet on chromium compounds
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health chromium workplace safety & health topics webpage
- CDC Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry Public Health Statement for Chromium
How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers' rights?
Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers' rights under the OSH Act.
OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Small business employers may contact OSHA's free and confidential On-site Consultation program to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites and work with OSHA on correcting any identified hazards. Consultants in this program from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs. On-site Consultation services are separate from enforcement activities and do not result in penalties or citations. To contact OSHA's free consultation service, go to OSHA's On-site Consultation web page or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.
Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Workers can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by a worker are more likely to result in an inspection.
If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.
- UPDATED Hexavalent Chromium Safety and Health Topics Page
- Controlling Exposure to Hexavalent Chromium in Aerospace and Air Transport Painting. OSHA Fact Sheet 3650, (2013).
- Hexavalent Chromium Hazards in Bridge Painting. OSHA Fact Sheet 3649, (2013).
- Controlling Hexavalent Chromium Exposures during Electroplating. OSHA Fact Sheet 3648, (2013).
- Controlling Hazardous Fume and Gases during Welding. OSHA Fact Sheet 3647, (2013).
Primary Uses for Chromium
- Stainless steel
- Heat-resistant alloys
- Nonferrous alloys
- Leather Processing
- Paints and Coatings
Emerging Use for Chromium
- Iron-Chromium flow batteries used for energy storage in renewable energy generation