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J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2000 Jul-Sep;3(3):145-78.

Chromium in the environment: an evaluation of exposure of the UK general population and possible adverse health effects.

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  • 1MRC Institute for Environment and Health, University of Leicester, United Kingdom.


Chromium in the hexavalent form, Cr(VI), has long been recognized as a carcinogen and there is concern as to the effects of continuous low-level exposure to chromium both occupationally and environmentally. This review summarizes the available exposure data and known health effects and evaluates the potential risk to human health in the United Kingdom. Chromium emissions to the environment in the United Kingdom are predominantly derived from fuel combustion, waste incineration, and industrial processes. The less toxic trivalent form of chromium [Cr(III)] is dominant in most environmental compartments, and any Cr(VI), the more toxic form, that is emitted to the environment can be reduced to Cr(III). Food is a major source of exposure to chromium, and estimated daily oral intakes for infants (1 yr), children (11 yr), and adults are 33-45, 123-171, and 246-343 micrograms/person/d, respectively. Soil ingestion, particularly common in young children, can contribute to oral intake. Inhalation is a minor route of exposure for the general population. Average daily inhalation intakes in infants can range from 0.004 microgram/d for rural infants to 0.14 microgram/d for urban infants who are passively exposed to tobacco smoke, whereas adults who live in industrialized areas and smoke may take up between 2 and 12 micrograms/d. The most serious health effect associated with Cr(VI) is lung cancer, which has been associated with some occupational exposure scenarios, whereas Cr(III) is an essential nutrient with a broad safety range and low toxicity. The human body has effective detoxification mechanisms that can reduce ingested or inhaled Cr(VI) to Cr(III). In conclusion, there is no clear evidence to relate exposure to environmental levels of chromium with adverse health effects in either the general UK population or subgroups exposed to chromium around industrialized or contaminated sites. It can be expected that an improved understanding of the relevance of possible long-term accumulation of Cr(III) in the body may facilitate a more complete assessment, in the future, of the health risks in the general population associated with environmental exposure to chromium.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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