Hexavalent chromium and REACH regulation: what changes for galvanic treatments

Hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium trioxide or chromium 6, has been included in the SVHC list, acronym for substances of very high concern, by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). The new restrictions establish the need to introduce the use of alternative substances to hexavalent chromium for environmental protection and safety of human health. In this post we are going to examine the actions that need to be undertaken to ensure production processes that are compliant with REACH regulation and we are going to explore a new type of chromium, the trivalent chromium, as a valid alternative to chromium trioxide.


What does REACH stand for and why is it important for environmental safety?

REACH, acronym for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals, is a regulation of the European Union that entered into force on 1st June 2007 and that has the aim of improving the protection of human health and of the environment from the potential risks of chemical substances.

Subjects governed by REACH are all those entities that use chemical substances: from industrial processes to more ordinary products such as paint or detergents. Consequently, all the organizations that in their productive processes make use of chemical substances have to identify and manage the risks associated with these substances, providing evidence to ECHA that the used substances can be employed safely. 

However, ECHA has the right and the duty to assess whether the risks associated with the chemical substances can be managed safely and, in the case this cannot be guaranteed, to proceed to the restriction in the use of these substances. This is what happened with hexavalent chromium.


Hexavalent chromium among the SVHC

Hexavalent chromium has been identified as fatal substance if inhaled and toxic substance if swallowed or if it came into contact with skin. As a matter of fact, it is an extremely hazardous substance able to cause serious skin burns and eye damages, as well as damage to organs, respiratory tract irritation and cancer. Moreover, according to what has been stated in the REACH regulation, hexavalent chromium is suspected of damaging fertility and the unborn child.

Therefore, risks associated with this chemical substance are exceptionally high for human health and a regulatory and restrictive action in the use of chromium trioxide is of vital importance. Consequently, ECHA has started the process of identification of hexavalent chromium as SVHC until reaching the final inclusion of chromium trioxide in the REACH annex XIV.


What the REACH annex XIV is

Annex XIV, also known as Authorisation List, is the last step of the process for the restriction of the use of a specific chemical substance. The European Chemicals Agency classifies some SVHC to be included in the annex XIV and submits the Candidate List for the authorization to the European Commission, which is responsible for making the final decision.

Once the inclusion of the substance of very high concern in the annex XIV has been approved, the use of this substance is forbidden in EU markets. However, after the approval there is a transition period that goes from the inclusion of the SVHC in the annex XIV to its effective prohibition of use. The substance is indeed assigned a so-called sunset date within which all the companies or institutions that make use of the substance have to stop using it and to implement alternative solutions.

As a matter of fact, the authorisation procedure has the aim of guaranteeing the elimination of extremely hazardous substances in favour of the introduction of alternative substances or technologies that are less harmful for human health and environment.


Trivalent chromium: an effective alternative to hexavalent chromium

MT Metal Tech is constantly up-to-date on regulations of chemical substances in order to act respecting the environment and human health: this is why it has identified trivalent chromium as a valid alternative to chromium trioxide.    

Indeed, chromium is present in the environment that surrounds us mainly in two forms:

  • Trivalent chromium (Cr III)
  • Hexavalent chromium (Cr VI)

Both these chromium compounds are used for chrome plating treatments of metals: however, they show some differences. Trivalent chromium is naturally occurring in our environment and it is indispensable for human life because it is an essential nutrient. Hexavalent chromium is instead mainly produced in industrial processes. However, the crucial different is their degree of toxicity.     

A study conducted by EPA, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, states that trivalent chromium, thanks to its different chemical composition, has a much more reduced toxicity level compared to hexavalent chromium. Furthermore, the latter exhibits extremely higher risks for human health, from respiratory tract irritation to cancer risk. Indeed, studies shows clear evidence of the carcinogenic risk associated with chromium trioxide, whereas at present there are no data proving a potential carcinogenic risk of trivalent chromium.        

In support of the lower toxicity of trivalent chromium there are also ECHA classifications: indeed, according to European Chemicals Agency chromium 3 is not identified as SVHC and no hazards connected to this chemical substance have been registered.

Although hexavalent chromium has always been the first choice for chrome plating galvanic treatments, it is fundamental to recognize how dangerous this substance is and be able to adapt to change by introducing the use of trivalent chromium in the production processes. Chromium 3 represents an excellent solution for companies that provide services of metal plating because, despite the restrictions issued by REACH for the use of chromium trioxide, thanks to trivalent chromium they can still be competitive on the market and meet the high aesthetical requirements demanded by the customers, together with implementing REACH compliant production processes.


MT Metal Tech towards more sustainable processes

With a view to continuous improvement of productive processes and processed products, MT Metal Tech is constantly up-to-date on topics concerning REACH and SVHC, particularly as far as chromium compounds are concerned. The objective of MT Metal Tech is to develop increasingly environmentally-friendly processes and technologies, simultaneously guaranteeing a precise and reliable metal plating service, able to meet the highest aesthetical standards. 

For further information on the attention to details in MT Metal Tech, click here.

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