How hazardous is the chrome on your furniture?
This story was originally published as 'Is Chrome Going Out of Fashion?' at Sourceable on 15 September 2014.
In the context of furniture, the term “chrome” usually refers to a thin layer of electroplated chromium applied to a surface. It is highly durable, extremely hard and has a unique shine that can be a challenge to reproduce. It is also highly resistant to rust – in fact, chromium is what keeps stainless steel (a combination of chromium and steel) from corroding.
Unfortunately, there are some significant hazards to both the environment and human health where the use of chrome is concerned. Elemental chromium can exist in several different “states” which have different properties in terms of how they react with other substances, or how they affect living things. It occurs most commonly as either trivalent chromium (Cr III) or hexavalent chromium (Cr VI). While Chromium (III) is not considered harmful, Chromium (VI) is highly toxic and is classified as an established human carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Perhaps surprisingly, it’s Chromium (VI) which is most commonly used in the process of applying chrome to a surface. Those who work regularly with chrome plating are particularly at risk of inhaling the toxic compound, and it is essential that they take every precaution to minimise their exposure. Chromium (VI) also has the potential to contaminate supplies of groundwater and drinking water, posing a direct threat to human health and surrounding plant and animal life. This risk of environmental contamination and potential harm to workers, more than anything else, makes chrome a far less appealing choice of material for furniture.
Thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives emerging that are quickly gaining popularity in the interior design industry. Read the full story here.