|Classification and external resources|
Chromium toxicity refers to the fact that chromium is toxic.
Water insoluble chromium(III) compounds and chromium metal are not considered a health hazard, while the toxicity and carcinogenic properties of chromium(VI) have been known for a long time. An actual investigation into hexavalent chromium release into drinking water was used as the plot-basis of the motion picture Erin Brockovich.
Because of the specific transport mechanisms, only limited amounts of chromium(III) enter the cells. Several in vitro studies indicated that high concentrations of chromium(III) in the cell can lead to DNA damage. Acute oral toxicity ranges between 1900 and 3300 µg/kg. The proposed beneficial effects of chromium(III) and the use as dietary supplements yielded some controversial results, but recent reviews suggest that moderate uptake of chromium(III) through dietary supplements poses no risk.
World Health Organization recommended maximum allowable concentration in drinking water for chromium (VI) is 0.05 milligrams per liter.  Hexavalent chromium is also one of the substances whose use is restricted by the European Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive.
The LD50 for chromium(VI) ranges between 50 and 150 mg/kg. In the body, chromium(VI) is reduced by several mechanisms to chromium(III) already in the blood before it enters the cells. The chromium(III) is excreted from the body, whereas the chromate ion is transferred into the cell by a transport mechanism, by which also sulfate and phosphate ions enter the cell. The acute toxicity of chromium(VI) is due to its strong oxidational properties. After it reaches the blood stream, it damages the kidneys, the liver and blood cells through oxidation reactions. Hemolysis, renal and liver failure are the results of these damages. Aggressive dialysis can improve the situation.
The carcinogenity of chromate dust is known for a long time, and in 1890 the first publication described the elevated cancer risk of workers in a chromate dye company. Three mechanisms have been proposed to describe the genotoxicity of chromium(VI). The first mechanism includes highly reactive hydroxyl radicals and other reactive radicals which are byproducts of the reduction of chromium(VI) to chromium(III). The second process includes the direct binding of chromium(V), produced by reduction in the cell, and chromium(IV) compounds to the DNA. The last mechanism attributed the genotoxicity to the binding to the DNA of the end product of the chromium(III) reduction.
Chromium salts (chromates) are also the cause of allergic reactions in some people. Chromates are often used to manufacture, amongst other things, leather products, paints, cement, mortar and anti-corrosives. Contact with products containing chromates can lead to allergic contact dermatitis and irritant dermatitis, resulting in ulceration of the skin, sometimes referred to as "chrome ulcers". This condition is often found in workers that have been exposed to strong chromate solutions in electroplating, tanning and chrome-producing manufacturers.
As chromium compounds were used in dyes and paints and the tanning of leather, these compounds are often found in soil and groundwater at abandoned industrial sites, now needing environmental cleanup and remediation per the treatment of brownfield land. Primer paint containing hexavalent chromium is still widely used for aerospace and automobile refinishing applications.
Monitoring excessive human exposure
Overexposure to chromium can occur in welders and other workers in the metallurgical industry, persons taking chromium-containing dietary supplements, patients who have received metallic surgical implants, and individuals who ingest chromium salts. Chromium concentrations in whole blood, plasma, serum or urine may be measured to monitor for safety in exposed workers, to confirm the diagnosis in potential poisoning victims or to assist in the forensic investigation in a case of fatal overdosage.
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