Information on Chromium

What is “chromium”?

Chromium is a mineral found in rocks, animals, plants, and soil. It is also found in by-products of some types of manufacturing, such as leather tanning and chrome-ore processing.

Generally, chromium exists in two major forms: trivalent chromium and hexavalent chromium. Hexavalent Chromium is predominantly the man-made kind and it is present in the environment at much lower levels than trivalent chromium.

How does the exposure to either type of chromium affect my health?

Every person needs small amounts of trivalent chromium for proper health. The most common sources for this mineral are dietary supplements, the environment, and foods that contain chromium, such as American cheese, potato skins, peanuts, and oysters.

At certain levels, exposure to hexavalent chromium can affect people's health. Most studies focus on how chromium(+6) affects people who work with chrome or chrome by-products because these people are at a greater risk of experiencing adverse health effects. For example, studies done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services' focus primarily on work-related exposure to hexavalent chromium.

Additional studies on the health of people living on or near landfill sites containing chromium — some of them right here in Hudson County, New Jersey — found no evidence of adverse health effects beyond what occurs in the general population. A study done by the New Jersey Department of Health published in 1994 found that an extremely small percentage of study participants experienced minor adverse health effects that could possibly have been caused by exposure to hexavalent chromium. These effects included skin rashes and nasal allergies.

Studies that compare the health of people who live near land that contains hexavalent chromium with people who don't live near land that contains hexavalent chromium found no significant differences in the health of the two groups.

If the health risks here are minimal, why are some site workers wearing protective coveralls?

Unlike people who live near this site, some workers on the site may come in contact with chromium as part of their jobs. For example, these workers may operate equipment that collects some of the COPR, soils, and groundwater found under the surface at the site. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standards that apply to worksites like these are designed to be protective of workers' health and safety under real-life workplace situations.

We are committed to protecting the health and safety of our workers and the neighborhood. Therefore, we take the safety requirements developed by OSHA very seriously.

How might I be exposed to chromium?

You can be exposed to chromium by breathing air, drinking water, or eating foods that contain chromium, or through skin contact with chromium. We are all exposed to small amounts of chromium every day.

Does chromium cause cancer?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that lung cancer can be caused by continuous exposure over many years to high levels of airborne hexavalent chromium–levels that are many times higher than those allowed in the workplace by OSHA. Exposure to trivalent chromium has not been found to cause cancer.

A report issued by Dartmouth University called "The Facts on Chromium" states that safer work practices developed in the 1960s greatly reduced the number of workers who were exposed to unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium in their jobs. Today, there is no evidence of increased cases of lung cancer in people who work with hexavalent chromium beyond what occurs in the general population.

Was there hexavalent chromium at this site?

Yes. There was hexavalent chromium here and in many other places throughout the United States and the world. Until the 1950s, it was a common practice to use ore-processing by-products, including steel, chromium, and other slag type materials to create additional land.

Where can I get more information on chromium?

Here are links to several Websites that provide additional information on chromium. These Websites address both workplace exposure and exposure from living on or near land that contains chromium:

New Jersey Department of Health, Environmental Health Services Division of Epidemiology, Environmental and Occupational Health Services, Chromium Medical Surveillance Projects, Oct. 1994:
British Medical Journal, 2000 January 1, Self Reported Health of People in an Area Contaminated by Chromium Waste: Interview Study:
ATSDR Toxicological Profile for Chromium: