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Written By: Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President
February 17, 2020
Hexavalent Chromium Cancer-Causing Substance
Welding on stainless steel can expose welders to hexavalent chromium, also called Chrome 6, or Chrome (VI), which is a suspect cancer-causing substance now specifically regulated by OSHA (General Industry 29 CFR 1910.1026 and Construction 29 CFR 1926.1126). (Go to OSHA.gov/law-regs—the specific regulations are found under “General Industry’ and “Construction”). Hex chrome exposure can also occur on welding on chrome or the use of welding using chrome containing welding rods.
Overexposure to Hexavalent Chromium
The potential for overexposure to hexavalent chromium is a real one due to the fact that the allowable limit for hex chrome, the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) is now set at 5 ug/M3 for an eight-hour workday and an action level of 2.5 ug/M3. A considerable reduction in the hexavalent chromium PEL since it is accepted to be a cancer-causing agent.
The more intense the welding task—such as stick welding with chrome containing welding rods (stick welding is also called SMAW – Shielded Metal Are Welding) the more likely an overexposure to hexavalent chromium will occur. The more time a welder spends working on stainless steel in a workday, the more likely an overexposure to hexavalent chromium will occur. Don’t stop there—other forms of welding may also result in overexposure to hexavalent chromium.
Other Forms of Welding
Other forms of welding, MIG, TIG, Plasma Arc, Torch Laser, may also subject a welder to hex chromium exposure. Most steel alloys have some chromium in them because it reduces corrosion and increases flexibility. The OSHA standard instituted in 2006, requires monitoring of each welding activity where the potential for exposure to hex chrome exists. This personnel sampling will determine if overexposure to hexavalent chromium exists or an action level is exceeded and if so, what action is required to reduce the hex chromium exposure to a safe level. Monitoring is also required to determine if respiratory protection is required and what is the suitable protection for the particular level of exposure. If the PEL or Action Level to hex chrome is exceeded, the standard requires repeat sampling at either three months (over PEL) or six months (over AL) intervals under two successive samplings are below the Action Level.
Other Exposures to Hazardous Materials When Welding
It is also important to note that welders may also be exposed to other inhalation hazards with work on other metal materials. This includes Manganese—now implicated in causing Parkinson’s type tremors and also found is the stick of “stick welding.” Lead, copper, beryllium, zinc, cadmium, nickel, and other fume emissions from the welding process are additional components of welding fume from welding on stainless steel, carbon steel, aluminum or other metals that require a weld to fuse metal surfaces. “Metal Fume Fever” has long been recognized as a result of exposure to Zinc (galvanizing) metal fume.
Steps to Control Exposure to Hexavalent Chromium
The first step is to perform the monitoring of welders who may work on hex chrome containing metals. Such testing can be performed by an Industrial Hygienist who has the education and experience to address worker exposure and OSHA regulatory compliance and can assist in developing a hex chrome exposure control plan and remediation plan when necessary.
Contact Atlantic Environmental using our contact form or call us at 800-344-4414 to discuss your hexavalent chromium exposure concerns and see how our environmental professional consultants can help you.
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