Chromium VI – the carcinogen of international fame

News 2018 / October

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Chromium VI – carcinogen of international fame

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For some time now, chromium VI has perhaps been the most well-known toxic chemical in the world – largely because of the Hollywood movie Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts.

The movie was based on real-life legal clerk Erin Brockovich who had led an investigation into chromium VI contamination of drinking water in a small town in southern California in the early nineties.

That was over 20 years ago, but the problems have not stopped. Chromium VI is still widely found in drinking water and public water systems around the world.

A recent analysis of drinking water in the United States shows that chromium VI contaminates water supplies for more than 200 million Americans in all 50 states.

It is also a common problem in working environments for people who handle chromate-containing products, and grind or weld stainless steel, and are exposed to the chemical through inhalation or skin contact.

“Exposure leads to severe adverse health effects, most notably cancer”

With no safe exposure level, it has affected a million workers  in Europe and is causing 300 deaths annually, with a lung cancer morbidity rate of 82 percent.

Chromium VI, or hexavalent chromium as it is also called, is a toxic form of the naturally occurring element chromium. This man-made chemical is widely used in many different products. For example, as chromate pigments in dyes, paints, inks and plastics, or added as anticorrosive agents to paints, primers and other surface coatings.

But exposure to chromium VI leads to severe adverse health effects, most notably cancer.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has classified it as CMR – Carcinogenic, Mutagenic or Toxic for Reproduction. It is therefore restricted in leather and cement applications under the European REACH regulation and also placed on the authorisation list. This means that it would require an approved authorisation before being used in the EU at all.

“There are alternatives for chromium VI available on the market”

What is noteworthy though, is that there are a lot of authorisations connected to it. Out of a total of 172 granted authorisations – 89 are regarding chromium VI.

And later this week, three more applications for authorisation regarding chromium VI are up for discussion in the REACH Committee. If approved, it would mean that thousands more tonnes of chromium VI would be allowed in Europe, in several cases until as late as 2029.

This is especially noteworthy seeing as there are alternatives available on the market, and in REACH, authorisations should not be granted when alternatives are available.

On Marketplace there are already plenty of alternatives available for chromium VI.

One alternative is a replacement of chrome dyes from the chemicals company Huntsman.

The company already started replacing chrome dyes 20 years ago, and in 2008, it completely stopped producing and selling them. Their alternative Lanasol was even recommended by the EU Commission in its report on Best Available Techniques for the Textile Industry.

“There is really no reason left to continue using this nasty chemical”

Another alternative is the corrosion inhibitor for coatings from Hexigone.

This alternative is a drop-in replacement for chromium VI that uses an award-winning technology to create a “smart” coating that slows corrosion time. This, in the end, increases the lifetime of the product and reduces the drain on primary resources.

As more and more alternatives come out on the market, there really is no reason left to continue using this nasty chemical.

Marketplace alternatives

Marketplace welcomes all kinds of alternatives that work to reduce the use of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs). Click here to read more about criteria and verification.