The Dangers of Hexavalent Chromium

By: Chris Morse

The term Hexavalent Chromium doesn’t roll off the tongue and many people may not recognize the term, but if you’ve seen or heard of the movie Erin Brockovich, you are probably aware that the small community of Hinkley, CA settled a lawsuit for $333 million due to Hexavalent Chromium poisoning, a chemical that caused cancer in many Hinkley residents.

Hexavalent Chromium, according to OSHA, is one of the valence states (+6) of the element chromium that can be produced during industrial processes such as chrome plating and can enter the environment through grinding and torching. Chrome is often used in metal recycling and processing, added to alloy steel to increase hardenability and help resist corrosion, and any type of hot work such as welding or grinding can exasperate exposure.

According to The Department of Labor, Hexavalent Chromium is known to cause cancer and negatively affect the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin, and eyes. An estimated 558,000 workers are potentially exposed to Hexavalent Chromium every year and without the right protection and procedures, toxic emissions can be released and negatively impact the environment.

Hexavalent Chromium and the Recycling Industry

The dangers Hexavalent Chromium pose to employees in the Recycling industry and the environment, in general, are long-term and lawsuits could cripple or bankrupt a company, if found to be negligent.

In 2016 the Los Angeles Times spotlighted two metal-processing plants in the city of Paramount, accused of polluting an entire city with hexavalent chromium and neglecting to implement approved OSHA and EPA procedures. Both were said to have omitted toxic residual amounts of Hexavalent Chromium into the air, making residents living in the surrounding area sick. The amount of hexavalent chromium in the air was 350 times normal levels, forcing the businesses to shut down operations. In addition to losing business from shutting down operations, they received more than $100,000 in environmental fines and are still facing more legal fees and lawsuits.

Protecting Your Business Against Hexavalent Chromium Claims

There are two steps to protecting your business and personal assets against hexavalent Chromium claims. The first is establishing risk management protocols. Exposure to Hexavalent Chromium occurs through inhalation but also skin and eye contact. To protect employees and to safeguard the surrounding environment, employers should utilize OSHA related safety measures to limit exposure and to prevent claims from occurring. In addition to OSHA safety guidelines, we encourage you to utilize loss control services provided by your insurance carrier and insurance broker. 

The second step to protecting your business is purchasing comprehensive insurance coverage. Claims are not always avoidable so it’s imperative to also manage risk with insurance. Have you discussed Hexavalent Chromium with your broker recently? Do you know if your insurance policy will respond to claims such as this? If not, we recommend you contact us today for a comprehensive review of your current policy. Don’t wait to find out if your policy will respond. Solutions for cleanup, restitution and legal fees are available.