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Cal-OSHA Update: Hexavalent Chromium: New Standard Significantly Reduces Regulatory Limits - Are you in compliance?

Posted 11/29/2006

A new and final standard for occupational exposure to Hexavalent Chromium issued by Cal-OSHA became effective May 30, 2006, possibly necessitating the testing or re-testing of exposure levels in many workplace environments. The new Cal-OSHA-PEL (“Permissible Exposure Limit”) is 1/10th it’s prior PEL, having been reduced to 5µg/m3 from 50µg/m3, with an Action Limit of 2.5µg/m3. (Title 8, Section 5206)

Are you in compliance? Cal-OSHA’s standard requires employers with 20 or more employees to have been in compliance with all obligations of section 5206 (except engineering controls) by 11/27/06. For employers with 19 or fewer employees, the date is May 30, 2007.

Industrial Hygienists and laboratories have been busy with the increased activity, so if your situation warrants renewed monitoring and reporting, now is the time to get it scheduled!

WHAT is Hexavalent Chromium? Chromium hexavalent (CrVI) compounds, often called hexavalent chromium, exist in several forms. Chromates are often used as pigments for photography, and in pyrotechnics, dyes, paints, inks, and plastics. They can also be used for stainless steel production, textile dyes, wood preservation, leather tanning, and as anti-corrosion coatings.

WHY does it need to be monitored? Calcium chromate, chromium trioxide, lead chromate, strontium chromate, and zinc chromate are known human carcinogens. An increase in incidence of lung cancer has been observed among workers in industries that produce chromate and manufacture pigments containing chromate. Other adverse health effects associated with Cr(VI) exposure include skin problems, allergies, asthma, sinus and respiratory issues, eye/ear irritation and damage, organ damage, and more.

WHO needs to be concerned with monitoring? Workers in many different occupations are exposed to hexavalent chromium. Occupational exposures occur mainly among workers who handle pigments containing dry chromate, spray paints and coatings containing chromate, operate chrome plating baths, and weld or cut metals containing chromium, such as stainless steel. Stainless steel welding involves the greatest exposure to hexavalent chromium. The primary means of human exposure to hexavalent chromium and chromate salts are inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact. Hexavalent chromium can be inhaled when hexavalent chromium dust, mist, or fumes are in the air. Particles of chromium dust can contaminate hands, clothing, beards, food, and beverages.

HOW & WHEN is exposure be evaluated? An Industrial Hygienist performs air sampling according to accepted methods. The samples collected are analyzed to assess levels and how they compare with exposure limits established by Cal-OSHA, NIOSH, and ACGIH. 1) If monitoring reveals employee exposures are below the action level, monitoring may be discontinued as long as the environment remains unchanged*. 2) If monitoring reveals employee exposures to be at or above the action level, the employer is required to perform periodic monitoring at least every 6 months. 3) If monitoring reveals employee exposures to be above the PEL, the employer is required to perform periodic monitoring at least every 3 months, until an acceptable level is achieved, AND the result is confirmed by the result of another monitoring taken at least seven days later.

* The employer is required to perform additional monitoring when there has been any change in the production processes, raw materials, equipment, personnel, work practices, or control methods that may result in new or additional exposures to chromium (VI), or when the employer has any reason to believe that new or additional exposures have occurred.


For more information on this article please contact Sterling & Associates, Inc.

168 South Hillview Drive
Milpitas, CA 95035
Toll-free number: (888) 922-1656 or
Local number: (408) 262-1656
Fax (408) 262-5902