From 1984-2006, employees of the Dutch Ministry of Defence were exposed to chromium-6 during maintenance work. This occurred at five so-called POMS sites (POMS: Prepositioned Organizational Materiel Storage), where principally American NATO equipment was stored and maintained by Defence personnel. The chief source of chromium-6 was the primer coating used to protect the equipment, and maintenance activities could cause the release of this substance. The investigation revealed that the Health & Safety policy at the POMS sites was inadequate, especially in the first operative years. The Ministry of Defence had the responsibility to inform both employees and occupational physicians about the health risks of exposure to chromium-6-based paint and to ensure the use of the appropriate protective equipment. This did not happen adequately.
The extent to which Defence personnel were exposed to chromium-6 at the five POMS sites differed according to their positions. Employees in the technical maintenance positions had the highest exposure to chromium-6. The chromium-6 to which Ministry of Defence personnel were exposed in the period 1984-2006 can no longer be detected in their bodies. The fact is that chromium-6 is readily converted to chromium-3 in the body and is subsequently excreted.
Health effects of chromium-6
Defence personnel working in technical maintenance positions were exposed to chromium-6, which may have caused the following diseases: lung cancer, nasal and nasal cavity cancer, gastric cancer, chromium-6-related allergic contact dermatitis, allergic asthma and allergic rhinitis, chronic lung diseases and perforation of the nasal septum due to chromium ulcers. Because most of these diseases can also be induced by other causes, in many cases it cannot be determined with certainty that these diseases are the result of exposure to chromium-6 at the POMS sites. For other health problems, such as dental problems, no or insufficient scientific evidence has been found for a possible relationship with exposure to chromium-6.
Responsibilities, working conditions and duty of care
In its capacity as employer, the Ministry of Defence had the responsibility of notifying both employees and occupational physicians of the risks of exposure to chromium-6 containing paint. Most POMS employees indicated that they were not aware of the health hazards related to chromium-6. Furthermore, hardly any of the occupational physicians at the Ministry of Defence that participated in this study knew that there was a possibility that employees were exposed to chromium-6 in the period that the POMS sites were operational. The Ministry of Defence’s prevention and care policy did not comply with the applicable rules, particularly in the early years.
RIVM has conducted research into chromium-6 on behalf of the Minister of Defence. We have published a serie of ten reports on chromium-6 at the POMS sites of the Dutch Ministry of Defence . A combined English summary of the ten reports is available in the report 'Chromium-6 at the Ministry of Defence's POMS sites: health effects and responsibilities'.