Hex Chromium is found in many products, but we will focus on its use in stainless steel and how cutting produces it. Hex Chrome, or Hexavalent Chromium 6 is found naturally and is related to Chromium 3, which is necessary for human diets. Chromium 6 is a more toxic form of Chromium 3 and is a known carcinogen when inhaled.
Many products use Chromium, stainless steel among them. Whenever stainless steel is subjected to certain processes like welding, or plasma cutting, a portion of the Chromium is changed to HEX Chrome. In other words, the high heat caused by plasma cutting takes the Chromium found in stainless steel and creates toxic Hexavalent Chrome or “Hex Chrome”. Exposure to the contaminated air in this environment can have many health effects.
Some of the effects of exposure to Hex Chrome:
1. Direct eye contact with chromate dust can cause permanent eye damage
2. Contact with Hex Chrome on open wounds can cause chrome ulcers and allergies may develop causing skin rash
3. Hex Chrome is a respiratory tract irritant and can cause asthma symptoms such as shortness of breath.
4. The worst case is Cancer; Hexavalent Chromium is a Known Carcinogen. Those exposed to it have a higher rates of lung cancer.
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Agency) has published certain standards to protect workers from Hexavalent Chromium which can be found on their web page: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/hexavalentchromium/standards.html
There are many OSHA requirements and details involved with Hexavalent Chromium when plasma cutting, and all should be followed.
A few of the OSHA requirements are as follows:
1. Protective clothing and respiratory protection must be given to employees who have potential exposure.
2. Medical surveillance of employees with potential exposure must be conducted
3. Workplace or job specific monitoring must be done to establish areas of potential exposure and quantify it.
In summary, Hex Chrome, Hexavalent Chromium or Chromium 6 is found in Stainless Steel. When cutting Stainless Steel with plasma, toxic compounds are released into the atmosphere which can cause harm to personnel working within a certain distance. OSHA requires specific precautions to be taken by the employer and employee which will help to prevent any permanent injuries caused by Hex Chrome.
For all OSHA information and standards and to learn more, please refer to your occupational health professional and/or OSHA’s web site here: www.OSHA.gov