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Huron River Spill: What is hexavalent chromium and how dangerous is it?

Posted at 12:32 PM, Aug 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-05 12:32:03-04

(WXYZ) — After a chemical spill was reported in the Huron River this week, many are wondering what hexavalent chromium is and how it could affect their health.

Here's what we know so far:

According to the MDHHS, hexavalent chromium was released from Tribar Manufacturing in Wixom to the Wixom Sewage Treatment Facility. The state says the sewer feeds the plant, which then discharges to the Huron River system.

The Michigan Department of Great Lakes and Energy have continuously tested the waters this week for the cancer-causing compound and while results from these surface samples are encouraging, they say we are not in the clear just yet.

"These are preliminary results and they are just beginning to give us an idea of the story of what's going on with this release and any potential impact on the Huron River," spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great lakes, and Energy Jill Greenberg said.

Ann Arbor residents upset and confused after Huron River chemical spill

What is hexavalent chromium?

Hexavalent chromium is a form of the metallic element chromium, according to Oakland County's website that details the Huron River incident.

"Hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen that can cause several adverse health effects through ingestion, skin contact or inhalation."

Some potential health effects include:

  • Prolonged skin contact with hexavalent chromium can result in dermatitis and skin ulcers
  • Inhaling hexavalent chromium can irritate the nose, throat, and lungs. Repeated or prolonged exposure can damage the mucous membranes of the nasal passages and result in ulcers
  • Direct eye contact can cause permanent eye damage

Hexavalent chromium also known as chromium 6 was at the center of the Erin Brockovich story.

Residents with questions about hexavalent chromium, potential health effects or exposures can call the MI Toxic Hotline at 1-800-648-6942, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Oakland County says there will be extended hotline hours will be offered this weekend, Saturday, Aug. 6 and Sunday, Aug. 7, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.