Chromium is a hard, grayish-silver metal with a shiny luster and brittle texture. It forms green chromic oxide when heated. Chromium exposed to oxygen becomes unstable and emits a thin oxide layer for protection.
The primary uses of chromium are in stainless steel alloys, metal ceramics, and chrome plating. It was once a favorite plating material for steel because of its ability to provide a mirror-like coating and added shine. Today, it is often applied to other metals to create a shiny finish as well as to help protect against corrosion.
Other uses include:
This versatile metal comes into play more often than you’d think.
Chromite ore comes from the Philippines, Africa, Finland, Zimbabwe, India, and Kazakhstan. An estimated 14 tons is extracted each year, with an estimated 1 billion tons still untouched (including deposits in the United States, Canada, and Greenland).
There are low levels of chromium in drinking water and air. This substance also exists in many types of fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains. Canned food typically has a higher chromium content than fresh food.
Although chromium is a required human nutrient for the metabolic and cardiac systems, too much can cause symptoms such as skin rashes, ulcers, stomach issues, respiratory issues, kidney and liver damage, along with a weakened immune system. Some people also have allergic reactions.
High levels of chromium intake are typical among those who smoke or who work in the textile or steel industry. Here is more information on the physiological effects of long-term chromium exposure.
Both human actions and natural processes expose this substance to the air and water. Industries that release chromium into the environment include leather, chemical and textile manufacturing, coal combustion, and other industrial applications that use chromium.
Chromium in the soil can lead to a higher concentration of this substance in crops. It is usually absorbed in water, but only in trace amounts. Chromium in soil typically does not seep into groundwater. It has been known to cause issues in animals such as respiratory problems and congenital disabilities. Check out the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College for more information about the impact chromium has on the environment.
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