Hexavalent Chromium: What It Is
Hexavalent Chromium Cr(VI) is a metal particle that can occur naturally in rocks but is most commonly produced by industrial processes. It has the ability to gain electrons from other elements (a strong oxidizer), which means it can react easily with them.
Because of its ability to react with other elements, it can produce hard coatings, which is why it is used in paints for cars, boats and airplanes. This property is also what makes hexavalent chromium a health hazard. Hexavalent chromium is often referred to as Hex Chrom, Hex Chrome, Chromium 6, HexaChrom, Cr(VI), HexChrome, etc.
OSHA Standard Overview
On February 28, 2006, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published the final Hexavalent Chromium Cr(VI) Standard. The new permissible exposure limit (PEL) for Cr(VI) is 5µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter).
There are three standards for different industries: General Industry, Construction, and Shipyards. The respiratory protection requirements for the three standards are similar. A respiratory protection program, including respirator selection, is required to follow OSHA 1910.134.
A brief overview of the standard can be found in our document Highlights of the New Hexavalent Chromium Standard. For a complete copy of the standard, please refer to OHSA’s website at www.osha.gov.
Main Industries and Applications Affected
The primary industries affected, according to OSHA, are Stainless Steel Fabrication, Heavy Duty Coatings and Paints (Automobile, Train Car, Airplane, Boats, Ships), electroplating and producers of chrome-based pigments.
Welding (especially on stainless steel), spraying heavy-duty coatings and paints, and chrome plating are the primary applications affected.
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Impacts of the New Hexavalent Chromium Standard
Employers must reassess their exposure controls, including the adequacy of their respirator program, taking into consideration the lower exposure limit.
If they have not done so already, employers in the affected industries should make an exposure determination to establish whether or not the new standard and its requirements apply, and if so, implement the necessary steps for compliance, including selection of proper respirators.
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