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J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1999;37(2):173-94.


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Chromium occurs primarily in the trivalent state (III), which is the most stable form, or in the hexavalent state (VI), which is a strong oxidizing agent. Elemental chromium (0) does not occur naturally on earth. Trivalent chromium (III) is an essential trace metal necessary for the formation of glucose tolerance factor and for the metabolism of insulin. Commercial applications of chromium compounds include tanning (III), corrosion inhibition, plating, glassware-cleaning solutions, wood preservatives (VI), manufacture of safety matches, metal finishing (VI), and the production of pigments (III, VI). Hexavalent chromium (VI) contaminated local soil when chromium waste slag was part of the fill material present in residential, public, and industrial areas. In some urban areas, about two-thirds of the chromium in air results from the emission of hexavalent chromium from fossil fuel combustion and steel production. The remaining chromium in air is the trivalent form. The residence time of chromium in air is < 10 days, depending on the particle size. Trivalent compounds generally have low toxicity and the gastrointestinal tract poorly absorbs these compounds. Hexavalent chromium is a skin and mucous membrane irritant and some of these hexavalent compounds are strong corrosive agents. Hexavalent chromium compounds also produce an allergic contact dermatitis characterized by eczema. Sensitivity to trivalent compounds is much less frequent, but some workers may react to high concentrations of these compounds. Hexavalent chromium is recognized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and by the US Toxicology Program as a pulmonary carcinogen. The increased risk of lung cancer occurs primarily in workers exposed to hexavalent chromium dust during the refining of chromite ore and the production of chromate pigments. Although individual studies suggest the possibility of an excess incidence of cancer at sites outside the lung, the results from these studies are inconsistent.

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