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Side Effects of Hexavalent Chromium

author image Elizabeth Thatcher
Based outside Boston, Elizabeth Thatcher began writing health-related articles in 2007. Her work has appeared in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Science," "Nature Genetics," "Journal of Cell Biology," "Developmental Dynamics," "RNA Biology" and "BMC Genomics." Thatcher earned a Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering from Mercer University before starting medical research and receiving her doctorate in molecular biology from Vanderbilt University.
Side Effects of Hexavalent Chromium
Man using an inhaler Photo Credit: Ljupco/iStock/Getty Images

Hexavalent chromium, or chromium VI, is a man-made compound containing chromium. Several occupations require hexavalent chromium use, such as steel manufacturing and welding, chromate pigments and chemicals and thermal cutting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers hexavalent chromium in any form to be a carcinogen. Small-scale exposure to hexavalent chromium will unlikely cause any side effects; however, you should avoid ingesting and minimize contact with products containing hexavalent chromium.

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Skin Irritation

Prolonged or repeated exposure of hexavalent chromium to the skin or eyes can cause irritations, such as discolorations and rashes. Symptoms will progressively get worse with repeated exposure. A report published in the “Archives of Toxicology” in 1981 demonstrated the ability of hexavalent chromium to be absorbed through the skin. Prolonged exposure simply allowed hexavalent chromium to accumulate in cells and move to the blood stream to be taken throughout the body. You should take precautions to prevent exposure to hexavalent chromium in liquid form and to minimize exposure to skin and eyes when working with hexavalent chromium.


Signs of respiratory distress have been reported in people who are exposed to industrial hexavalent chromium by-products daily. Airborne particulates can accumulate in the lungs and make breathing more difficult, according to the CDC. Moreover, nasal passages, throat and mouth may become scarred. You should wear a protective face mask in order to guard against this possibility. If you experience chronic nosebleeds, you should be evaluated for toxic hexavalent chromium exposure.

Kidney and Liver Damage

Your kidneys and liver will attempt to filter toxins from your body. Hexavalent chromium, however, accumulates in the kidneys and liver without a method to escape. This accumulation causes cellular toxicity and forces the kidney and liver cells to die. If you notice a change in urine output you may be experiencing symptoms of kidney failure. Eventually, kidney and liver failure is possible with prolonged exposure to hexavalent chromium.

Teeth Degradation

Hexavalent chromium has the ability to erode the enamel protecting your teeth. Repeated exposure of hexavalent chromium to your mouth will cause discoloration of teeth followed by erosion. The CDC has a comprehensive website that illustrates this troubling affect.

Lung Cancer

Hexavalent chromium is considered a general carcinogen. If ingested, you may experience any type of cancer, including stomach, throat and uterine cancer. Lung cancer, however, is the most prevalent form of cancer caused by hexavalent chromium. Typically, industrial workers exposed to hexavalent chromium on a daily basis develop lung cancer. Since there is not a method to definitely diagnose cancer caused uniquely by hexavalent chromium exposure, there may be other more prevalent forms of cancer not yet attributed to hexavalent chromium.

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