Adverse health effects associated with Cr(VI) exposure include occupational asthma, eye irritation and damage, perforated eardrums, respiratory irritation, kidney damage, liver damage, pulmonary congestion and edema, upper abdominal pain, nose irritation and damage, respiratory cancer, skin irritation, and erosion and discoloration of the teeth. Some workers can also develop an allergic skin reaction, called allergic contact dermatitis. This occurs from handling liquids or solids containing Cr(VI) such as portland cement. Allergic contact dermatitis is long-lasting and more severe with repeated skin exposure. Furthermore, contact with non-intact skin can lead to ulceration of the skin sometimes referred to as chrome ulcers. Chrome ulcers are crusted, painless lesions showing a pitted ulcer covered with fluid.
All hexavalent chromium compounds are considered carcinogenic to workers. The risk of developing lung, nasal, and sinus cancer increases with the amount of hexavalent chromium inhaled and the length of time the worker is exposed. Studies of workers in chromate production, chromate pigment, and chrome electroplating industries employed before the 1980s show increased rates of lung cancer mortality. Certain hexavalent chromium compounds produced lung cancer in animals that had the compounds placed directly in their lungs.
Direct eye contact with chromic acid or chromate dusts can cause permanent eye damage. Avoid eye contact with dusts, fumes, smoke, liquids, mists, and aerosols containing hexavalent chromium.
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, exposure causes perforation of the septum (the wall separating the nasal passages). Some employees become allergic to hexavalent chromium so that inhaling the chromate compounds can cause asthma symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath.
Prolonged skin contact can result in dermatitis and skin ulcers. Some workers develop an allergic sensitization to chromium. In sensitized workers, contact with even small amounts can cause a serious skin rash.
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