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The substance Chromium VI gained notoriety in the film Erin Brokovich for causing health problems near a tannery and rightly so with this carcinogen. Around 80% of the world’s leather production is tanned with chromium salts which enable the finished leather to be supple and pliable and suitable to a range of end use products. During leather tanning chromium III is used to give a highly versatile leather suited to most industries and if the tanning processes are carried out correctly then the resulting leather will be completely safe to use. However it is the presence of chromium VI which is of concern to the consumer.   Chromium VI is not used within the leather tanning process, but its presence may occur by oxidation of chromium III due to a variety of reasons. For example oxidation of chromium III can occur with extremely high pH or temperature or if chrome powder is sourced from a non-reputable supply then there is a possibility that it may contain chrome VI as an impurity. Chromium VI is currently under public consideration for inclusion in the REACH regulations whereby its presence in leather would be banned above a 3ppm limit of detection. This would bring it into line with legislation currently in place in European nations such as Germany. RAPEX, the EU Rapid alert system for dangerous non-food consumer products, has recently discovered two items (a pair of leather gloves and a pair of ladies shoes with leather inner soles and upper.) intended for the European market that contained well above the 3ppm limit of Chromium VI and so posed a huge potential risk to users of the product and to the environment. The leather gloves actually contained 50ppm (16 times the legal limit) and so as a result the product was recalled from the market place. The Laboratory At The Birmingham Assay Office is UKAS accredited to carry out Chromium VI testing. Analysis of chromium VI is carried out by UV/vis determination after derivatisation of an extracted solution and The Lab can offer a fast turnaround time to help ensure that products are below the legal limit and safe for the market place.  For further information on Chromium VI or any other testing matters please contact Tim Smith or Steve Franklin on testing@theassayoffice.co.uk or 0871 871 6020.

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