Hexavalent chromium (chromium VI) refers to chemical compounds that contain the element chromium in the +6 oxidation state. Virtually all chromium ore is processed via hexavalent chromium, specifically the salt sodium dichromate. Approximately 136,000,000 kilograms (300,000,000 lb) of hexavalent chromium were produced in 1985. Other hexavalent chromium compounds are chromium trioxide and various salts of chromate and dichromate. Hexavalent chromium is used for the production of stainless steel, textile dyes, wood preservation, leather tanning, and as anti-corrosion and conversion coatings as well as a variety of niche uses. Chromium hexavalent (CrVI) compounds, often called hexavalent chromium, exist in several forms. Industrial uses of hexavalent chromium compounds include chromate pigments in dyes, paints, inks, and plastics; chromates added as anticorrosive agents to paints, primers, and other surface coatings; and chromic acid electroplated onto metal parts to provide a decorative or protective coating. Hexavalent chromium can also be formed when performing "hot work" such as welding on stainless steel or melting chromium metal. In these situations the chromium is not originally hexavalent, but the high temperatures involved in the process result in oxidation that converts the chromium to a hexavalent state.(29 CFR OSHA General Industry 1910)
Hexavalent chromium is recognized as a human carcinogen via inhalation. Workers in many different occupations are exposed to hexavalent chromium. Problematic exposure is known to occur among workers who handle chromate-containing products as well as those who perform welding, grinding, or brazing on stainless steel. Within the European Union, the use of hexavalent chromium in electronic equipment is largely prohibited by the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive.
Hexavalent chromium compounds are genotoxic carcinogens. Chronic inhalation of hexavalent chromium compounds increases risk of lung cancer (lungs are especially vulnerable, followed by fine capillaries in kidneys and intestine). Soluble compounds, like chromic acid, are much weaker carcinogens. Chromate-dyed textiles or chromate-tanned leather shoes can cause or exacerbate contact dermatitis. Ingestion of chromium VI can also cause irritation or ulcers in the stomach and intestines.
Hexavalent chromium is transported into cells via the sulfate transport mechanisms, taking advantage of the similarity of sulfate and chromate with respect to their structure and charge. Trivalent chromium, which is the more common variety of chromium compounds, is not transported into cells. Inside the cell, Cr(VI) is reduced first to metastable pentavalent chromium (Cr(V)), then to trivalent chromium (Cr(III)). Vitamin C and other reducing agents combine with chromate to give Cr(III) products inside the cell. According to some[who?] researchers, the damage is caused by hydroxyl radicals, produced during reoxidation of pentavalent chromium by hydrogen peroxide molecules present in the cell.
For drinking water, no United States EPA Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) exists. California has finalized a Public Health Goal of 0.02 parts per billion (ppb or micrograms per liter)  and is now in the process of establishing an enforceable MCL.
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