Uncategorized Department of Defense Phasing Out Hexavalent Chromium

Published on July 4th, 2009 | by Tina Casey


U.S. Military Targets Toxic Enemy #1: Hexavalent Chromium

July 4th, 2009 by  

Department of Defense Phasing Out Hexavalent Chromium


If hexavalent chromium doesn’t ring a bell, think chrome, the stuff that puts the shine on everything from bathroom faucets to motorcycles.

If that still doesn’t help, maybe Erin Brockovich does.  In the 1990’s, the former legal clerk fought to expose hexavalent chromium contamination in drinking water, in the small California town of Hinkley.  The result was a record-breaking settlement and a major motion picture.  Fast forward to April 2009, and the U.S. military is adding a new chapter to the Brockovich book.  The Department of Defense has issued a formal memo requiring an aggressive across-the-board reduction in the military’s use of hexavalent chromium, otherwise known as chromium 6.

Hexavalent Chromium and Cancer

Hexavalent chromium counpounds are an extremely versatile group of surface treatments that- aside from the aforementioned shine – resist abrasion, prevent corrosion, and can even self-repair under certain conditions.  On the down side, long term exposure to hexavalent chromium is a serious health threat that has been linked to kidney failure, liver failure, peridonitiis, gingivits, conjuntiveitis, and lung cancer.  Aside from accidental (or deliberate) ingestion, exposure can consist of direct contact, inhalation of fumes or dust, contact with contaminated soil or other surfaces, or contaminated water.  At the time of Brockovich’s work, the link to drinking water was not as strongly established as it is now, but a 2007 National Institutes of Health study on hexavalent chromium revealed more evidence.  Laboratory animals used in the two-year study developed malignant tumors in the gastrointestinal tract and sites “where tumors are rarely seen in laboratory animals,” according to researchers.

The U.S. Military and Hexavalent Chromium

High performance anti-corrosives like hexavalent chromium are essential to the U.S. military’s supply chain In terms of operational reliability, particularly in numerous weapons systems.  In fact, the Department of Defense has an entire office – the DoD Office of Corrosion Policy and Oversight – dedicated to corrosion prevention and mitigation.

U.S. Military Phasing Out Hexavalent Chromium

Despite its heavy reliance on hexavalent chromium, in April 2009 the Department of Defense issued an unusually forceful memorandum (available here) requiring an aggressive phase-out of hexavalent chromium, concurrent with a push to find effective alternatives.  The memo cites “serious human health and environmental risks” related to the use of hexavalent chromium, as well as a growing number of international restrictions that threaten the supply chain.  The DoD is not messing around.  Characterizing the situation as an “extraordinary” one that calls for going “beyond established hazardous materials management processes,” the memo was issued by the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and was copied to a dozen directors, commanders, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling for all departments to report their implementation plans within one year.

Finding Alternatives to Hexavalent Chromium

The U.S. military has been researching alternatives to hexavalent chromium for several years, and the DoD memo ramps the effort onto a new plane.  It brings the entire weight of military’s tech and procurement resources into play, including ASETSDefense (Advanced Surface Engineering Technologies for a Sustainable Defense), which is an initiative of SERDP (the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program) and ESTCP (the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program).  Also in the mix are NASA, DLA (the Defense Logistics Agency) and JG-PP (the Joint Group on Pollution Prevention).  JG-PP brings DCMA (the Defense Contracts Management Agency) with it, too.  The metal finishing industry is also exploring alternatives, despite serious misgivings related to compliance costs and some concern over aesthetics in decorative finishing.  Metal Finishing News Online notes that one promising alternative is trivalent chromium, a much less hazardous cousin of hexavalent chromium.

The Future of Hexavalent Chromium

The DoD memo is yet another example of the U.S. military’s lead on sustainability.  Especially with American soldiers engaged in two overseas wars, supporting our troops at home is more than a matter of ribbons and flags.  It’s also a matter of supporting what has rapidly become a critical logistical goal and national security goal, which according to the U.S Army Environmental Command boils down to “sustaining the environment for a secure future.”  In the mean time, for many years to come we will continue to deal with cleaning up contaminated dump sites and supplies.  Just ask Ms. Brockovich.  June 2009 finds her still battling for safe drinking water, and once again the culprit is hexavalent chromium.

Image: kiwanja on flickr.com. 
Get CleanTechnica’s 1st (completely free) electric car report → “Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want.”
Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.


Tags: , , , ,

About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

Back to Top ↑
  • Advertisements

  • Top Posts & Pages

  • Cool Cleantech Events

    Low Voltage Electrification Event, April 25-27. Detroit, Michigan (US)
    Delve deep into the benefits and challenges associated with EV power supply.

    Offshore Wind Market Development USA, May 11-12, Boston, Massachusetts (US)
    Network and establish your business in one of North America’s largest energy industries.

    Energy Storage USA, June 15-16, San Diego, California (US)
    Only event in the United States focused exclusively on the commercialization of storage.

    More details are on: Cleantech Events.

  • Advertisement

  • CleanTechnica Electric Car Report

    Electric Cars Early Adopters First Followers
  • Tesla Model 3 Review by EVANNEX

    Tesla Model 3 Review from EVANNEX
  • Tesla Model 3 Exclusive Video

    Tesla Model 3 Video
  • Tesla Model 3 Exclusive Pictures

    Tesla Model 3 Video
  • Tesla Model X Review #1 (Video)

    Tesla Model X Review from new owners Zach Shahan
  • Tesla Model X Review #2 (Pictures)

    Tesla Model X Review from Kyle Field
  • Tesla Model S Long-Term Review

    Tesla Model S Long Term Review from Kyle Field
  • Nissan LEAF Long-Term Review

    Nissan LEAF Long Term Review from Cynthia Shahan
  • Interview with Michael Liebreich

    Interview with Michael Liebreich
  • Interview with Akon (Teslas & Solar)

    Interview with Akon Tesla Model S Tesla Model X Solar Power Africa
  • Interview with Dr Nawal Al-Hosany

    Interview with Dr Nawal Al-Hosany
  • Interview with Gro Brundtland

    Gro Brundtland
  • Interview with President of Iceland

    President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
  • Interview with Nick Sampson

    Faraday Future VP Nick Sampson
  • Interview with Dipal Barua

    Dipal Barua 1st ZFEP WInner
  • Interview with Jonathon Porritt

    Jonathon Porritt
  • Interview with Clint Wilder

    Interview with Clint Wilder
  • Interviews with Solar Impulse Pilots

    Bertrand Piccard Andre Borschberg
  • Check out more CleanTechnica Videos.

  • Join The Solar Revolution!

    Edison-solar-energy solar-energy-spill-nice-day
  • Cost of Solar Panels

  • Search the IM Network