Hexavalent Chromium

Health Effects

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.

  • Health Effects of Hexavalent Chromium. OSHA Fact Sheet, (July 2006). Provides a concise list of industrial sources, symptoms and health effects of exposure to hexavalent chromium, and OSHA requirements for the protection of employees.
  • ToxFAQs for Chromium. Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), (October 2012). Answers the most frequently asked health questions about chromium.
  • Toxicological Profile for Chromium. Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), (September 2012). Characterizes the toxicological and adverse health effects information regarding chromium and chromium compounds.
  • Public Health Statement for Chromium. Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), (September 2012). Describes chromium and its effects on humans.
  • Chromium (VI) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Assessment. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), (September 1998). Lists human health effects that may result from exposure to various substances found in the environment.
  • Toxicological Review of Hexavalent Chromium. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Provides scientific support and rationale for the hazard identification and dose-response assessment in the integrated risk information system (IRIS) pertaining to chronic exposure to hexavalent chromium.

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.

  • Gibb, H.J., et al. "Lung cancer among workers in chromium chemical production." American Journal of Industrial Medicine (AJIM) 38.2 (July 7, 2000): 115-126. Describes a study regarding the incidence of lung cancer among workers in chromium chemical production.
  • Report on Carcinogens (RoC). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Toxicology Program (NTP). Identifies and discusses agents, substances, mixtures, or exposure circumstances that may pose a health hazard due to their carcinogenicity. The listing of substances in the RoC only indicates a potential hazard and does not establish the exposure conditions that would pose cancer risks to individuals.
    • Chromium Hexavalent Compounds. Explains the carcinogenicity, properties, use, production, exposure, and regulations regarding chromium hexavalent compounds.

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.

Respiratory Tract

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.

  • Preventing Skin Problems From Working with Portland Cement. OSHA Guidance, (February 2008). Provides information about persistent skin rash caused by trace amounts of hexavalent chromium present in portland cement. It has been reported that skin contact from working with wet portland cement can lead to allergic and irritant forms of dermatitis.
  • A Safety and Health Practitioner's Guide to Skin Protection. Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health (elcosh), (2000). Includes illustrations of dry skin, irritant contact dermatitis (ICD), allergic contact dermatitis (ACD), and cement burns.
Related Safety and Health Topics Pages
Industry Profile (Sector) - Hexavalent Chromium Exposure Industry Profile (Subcategory) - Hexavalent Chromium Exposure