The EcoWaste Coalition made this observation after finding extremely high amounts of chromium, a heavy metal, in 10 out of 10 leather products that the group bought from vendors in Carriedo St.
Using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer, the waste and pollution watchdog detected chromium up to 20,200 parts per million (ppm) in the samples.
Chromium exists in two principal forms. Trivalent chromium or Chromium III is an essential element for nutrition in humans. However, hexavalent chromium or Chromium VI is a known human carcinogen. High levels of chromium raise concerns because under certain conditions, each form can convert to the other.
Since the XRF could not identify the form of chromium present in the products, the EcoWaste Coalition sent five of the samples to a private laboratory to determine if they contain Chromium VI.
“While the XRF and the subsequent laboratory analysis were not able to confirm the presence of Chromium VI in the five samples, we still find the extremely high levels of chromium in the products very alarming,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT.
“Our concern is based on the fact Chromium III can convert to Chromium VI during use and when the products become wastes and enter the environment or are burned,” he said. “If a product contains very high levels of Chromium III, even low rates of conversion can form amounts of Chromium VI that raise concerns.”
Citing scientific information provided by scientist Dr. Joe DiGangi of IPEN to the EcoWaste Coalition, Dizon noted that Chromium III can oxidize to Chromium VI in the environment, leading to the contamination of the groundwater and the subsequent contamination of plants which absorb the chromium and accumulate it.
“The potential formation of Chromium VI during leather tanning, consumer use, and when products become wastes underscores the importance of considering the entire lifecycle of consumer products and phasing out hazardous chemicals so that products are safe for workers, consumers, and the environment,” DiGangi said.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), exposure to chromium occurs from ingesting contaminated food or drinking water or breathing contaminated workplace air.
Chromium VI can cause dermatitis and ulceration of the skin and chronic inhalation or oral exposure can cause cancer, decrease lung function, and affect the liver, kidney and immune systems.
In 2011, the California Environmental Protection Agency set a public health goal for Chromium VI in drinking water of 0.02 parts per billion (ppb) due to findings in China of increased rates of stomach cancer in humans exposed to high levels of Chromium VI in drinking water.
Studies show that chromium exposure may also occur through skin contact with certain consumer products containing chromium such as some wood preservatives, cement, cleaning materials, textiles and leather tanned using chromium and via cigarette smoke.