The use of hair chromium (Cr) concentrations as an index of Cr exposure of tannery workers was investigated. As has been shown earlier, Cr from Cr III compounds used in the leather tanning industry is absorbed because concentrations of Cr in serum and urine of tannery workers are significantly increased compared with corresponding concentrations for unexposed controls. Hair samples were collected from 71 male tannery workers from four southern Ontario tanneries and from 53 male controls not exposed to Cr in the workplace. Subjects were matched for age, race, and socioeconomic status. Hair samples were washed, ashed in a low temperature asher, and analysed by flameless atomic absorption. The median hair Cr concentrations for the tannery workers (551 ng/g) was significantly higher (p = 0.0001) than for the controls (123 ng/g). For the tannery workers, hair Cr concentrations were positively and significantly correlated with serum Cr (r = 0.52, p less than 0.01) and with the preshift and postshift urinary Cr/creatinine ratios (r = 0.43, p less than 0.01; r = 0.64, p less than 0.01, respectively). These data indicate that trivalent Cr absorbed from leather tanning compounds results in raised concentrations of Cr in hair and that hair Cr concentrations may be used as an index of industrial Cr exposure.
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