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Mutat Res. 1980 Nov;76(3):227-39.

Carcinogenicity and mutagenicity of chromium.


Occupational exposure represents the main source of human contamination by chromium. For non-occupationally exposed people the major environmental exposure to chromium occurs as a consequence of its presence in food. Chromium must be considered as an essential element. Its deficiency impairs glucose metabolism. Trivalent chromium salts are poorly absorbed through the gastro-intestinal and respiratory tracts because they do not cross membranes easily. Hexavalent chromium can be absorbed by the oral and pulmonary routes and probably also through the skin. After its absorption, hexavalent chromium is rapidly reduced to the trivalent form which is probably the only form to be found in biological material. Epidemiological studies have shown that some chromium salts (mainly the slightly soluble hexavalent salts) are carcinogens. Lung cancers have, indeed, often been reported among workers in chromate-producing industry and, to a lesser extent, in workers from the chrome-pigment industry. The first attempts to produce cancers in experimental animals by inhalation or parenteral introduction gave negative or equivocal results but, from 1960, positive results have been obtained with various chromium compounds. As for the carcinogenic activity, the mutagenicity of chromium has mainly been found with hexavalent salts. In the majority of assay systems used, trivalent chromium appears inactive. It can be considered as evident, however, that the ultimate mutagen which binds to the genetic material is the trivalent form produced intracellularly from hexavalent chromium, the apparent lack of activity of the trivalent form being due to its poor cellular uptake.

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