hard chrome plating tank

The Hexavalent Hard Chrome Scam

The hard chrome industry is tired of hearing about how hexavalent chrome is so dangerous that its industrial use must be curtailed or eliminated altogether.

Eric Svenson Sr.Eric Svenson Sr.This agenda, unfortunately, affects an industry that’s vital to our economy and national defense. Hard chrome plating is performed by numerous small, medium, and large businesses that support the aircraft, aerospace, military, hydraulic, and manufacturing industries. These businesses are crucial for our survival as a nation.

The so-called replacement coatings — including the newer trivalent hard chrome processes — do not come close to matching hex chrome in terms of deposit performance, overall practicality, ease of application, or production cost. They all fall short in at least one of these important areas. In some cases — like HVOF — they are even more hazardous than hex chrome.

Irrespectively, hex chrome is being identified as an environmental villain, and its use must therefore be severely restricted. California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) is even trying to ban all hex-Cr usage statewide by January 1, 2039. Is this attack justified?

What are the True Concerns?

What are the true concerns regarding the dangers of hex chrome? Hard chrome platers feel these concerns are completely overblown, possibly for financial and political purposes to weaken the U.S. Hard chrome platers today have the technology to make hex chrome sustainable with essentially zero discharge to the environment and no ill effects for the workers. Users of hex chrome realize it is no more hazardous than many other industrial and household chemicals used daily. They also understand that hex chrome is entirely safe when used correctly, and it does not pollute the environment when the proper design, equipment, and techniques are employed. So, where’s the problem?

Chromium discharges do not stay in the airstream; instead, the droplets fall onto the soil. The small amount of hex chrome discharged onto the soil or into the waterways is converted relatively quickly to the trivalent state when it encounters organic matter. 

Ironically, humans need a small amount of chromium to live, and it’s even included in many multivitamins. The body converts hex chrome to the tri chrome state immediately upon contact with the mucus membranes, primarily those found in the respiratory system. Therefore, small amounts actually become a health benefit because a chromium deficiency causes major health problems in humans. By design, the body retains what chromium it needs for overall good health and rids itself of any excess in the urine. In fact, the National Research Council determined a safe dietary intake of chromium for a 180-pound adult is up to 230 µg per day.

A poison is any substance that causes harm to the body if ingested, inhaled, injected, or absorbed. Virtually every chemical known to man could fall under this category; it’s the dose that makes the poison, and OSHA even admits that breathing small amounts of hex chrome for long periods does not cause respiratory tract irritation in most people. The U.S. Center for Disease Control states that breathing workplace air with high levels of hex chrome can cause cancer; the key words here are high levels and can cause.

Questionable Toxicology Studies

Those in the hard chrome industry feel that hex chrome has been unjustly attacked because of the questionable toxicology studies done, which are generally accepted as fact. The truth is these numbers are grossly overstated. Much of the data used for the toxicology levels were provided in a study by Mancuso published in 1975. However, the statistics he used were based on workers at a chromate plant between 1931-1937; but that plant was a chromic acid manufacturing plant, not a plating operation. The truth is the breathing air at that manufacturer was likely >1,000 times what is experienced in today’s plating facilities because chromic acid manufacturers back then had extremely high levels of hex chrome in their plant air due to the lack of ventilation.

Not only is the danger of using hex chrome exaggerated, but its toxicology levels should be questioned, much like the claim that high CO2 levels cause global warming. The attack on hex chrome is not justified; it’s based on politics and profits over what is truly best for our health, industry, and economy. The ‘theory’ that hex chrome is too dangerous to use is likely driven by political pressure and amplified by emotions in the environmental movement regardless of actual scientific data. Have you ever noticed that environmental regulations never get revised downwards when new data is discovered?

New processes will naturally become the norm when they add value to the market, solve a current issue, or are more efficient. Using government agencies to eliminate competition is not a free market economy.

Eric Svenson Sr. is a Master CEF / IUSF and President of Plating Resources in Cocoa, Florida. Visit www.Plating.com