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ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS AND TOXIC CHEMICALS WHERE YOU LIVE, WORK, AND PLAY

Chromium

What is it?

Chromium is a naturally-occurring element found in several forms in rocks, plants, soil, foods such as vegetables and nuts, and volcanic dust and gases. Tobacco products contain chromium. Chromium is also released from burning natural gas, oil, or coal.

There are several forms of chromium, which are described in numbers in parentheses. The three most common forms are chromium (0), chromium (III), and chromium (VI). Each form of chromium has a different level of toxicity. Chromium (III) is an essential dietary element for human health.

Some chromium compounds are used for chrome plating, making dyes and pigments, leather tanning, and wood preserving. They are used in stainless steel cookware, textiles, toner for copying machines, and some metal hip replacements.

See also: Vehicles and Engines Factories Food and Cooking Air Pollution Drinking Water Learning and Developmental Disabilities Asthma and other Lung Diseases Reproductive Health Cancer

Where is Chromium found?

  • Consumer products - stainless steel cookware, textiles, toner for copying machines, treated wood, and tobacco products
  • Air – smoking cigarettes, burning fuel, some industries, and volcanoes
  • Food and water - groundwater, drinking water, and some kinds of food. Acidic foods that are cooked in stainless steel cookware may contain higher levels of chromium.

How can I be exposed to Chromium?

Chromium commonly enter(s) the body through:

Eating
Ingestion (swallowing)
  • Eating food or drinking water that contains chromium
Inhalation
Inhalation (breathing)
  • Breathing indoor and outdoor air, cigarette smoke, and secondhand smoke
Touching
Skin contact
  • Using or touching consumer products that contain chromium

What happens when I am exposed to Chromium?

Short-term:
Breathing high levels of chromium (VI) can cause:

  • Irritation of the nose
  • Breathing problems
  • Dizziness
  • Headache

Skin contact with some chromium (VI) compounds can cause:

  • Skin ulcers
  • Burns
  • Skin swelling

Swallowing high amounts of chromium (VI) can cause:

  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Hemorrhaging

Long-term:
Long-term exposure to chromium (VI) can cause:

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Kidney, liver, and gastrointestinal damage
  • Complications in pregnancy and childbirth
  • Cancer

Who is at risk for exposure to Chromium?

  • Consumers
    • Some consumer products, foods, and water may contain chromium.
  • People who have had hip replacements
    • Chromium can be in metal-on-metal hip replacements.
  • Cigarette smokers
    • Tobacco products and secondhand smoke contain chromium.
  • Pregnant women
    • Exposure to chromium can complicate pregnancy and childbirth.

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to chromium, contact your health care professional.

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Do you, or does anyone in your household, smoke tobacco products?
  • Do you use well water?
  • If you smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Use proper ventilation when you use products that may contain chromium.
  • Avoid excessive use of dietary supplements containing chromium.
  • Avoid use of and skin contact with wood preservatives, textiles, and tanned leather that might contain chromium.
  • Routinely test well water for chromium.
  • If your well water has high levels of chromium, contact your local or state health agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information on how to correct the problem.
  • Don’t let children play in soil near sites where chromium may have been discarded.
  • Keep children away from chromium products.
National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases
Additional Resources
  • Chromium Compounds

    A summary report on chromium compounds, including physical properties, sources and potential exposure, uses, and associated health hazards.

  • Chromium. ToxFAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)

    Factsheet with answers to most frequently asked questions about chromium exposure and its effect on human health, developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.

  • Hexavalent Chromium Compounds (National Cancer Institute)

    Answers to frequently asked questions about hexavalent chromium compounds, including how exposure occurs, which cancers are associated with occupational exposure, and information on how exposure can be reduced.

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