Hexavalent Chromium Pollution in Developing Countries and the Challenges of Remediation

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Even though hexavalent chromium is a strictly chromium element in the oxidation state of +6, it is widely used to refer to all chemical compounds that contain such type of chromium. Since its discovery, the substance has had a wide range of industrial applications across the world because of the significant competitive advantage it has over its alternatives. Such benefits as corrosion resistance, hardness, process maturity, and coefficient of friction have made it a material of choice in many industries, including making coats of motorcycle parts and tool blades. Even though it was declared a carcinogen in 1988, its use has continued, especially in developing countries, such as India, Morocco, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, where it is a crucial material for industries.

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In the aforementioned developing countries, exposure to this chemical has resulted in serious public health problems comparable to malaria and other major public health crises. In particular, exposure to hexavalent chromium has increased the cases of lung cancer in areas where its industrial use is prevalent (Parker, 2013). Apart from lung cancer, prolonged exposure to this element damages vital organs of the body, involving liver and kidney. In addition, it can alter the structure of DNA, thus leading to a number of genetic disorders. The recent research has also found a link between asthmaticbronchitis and hexavalent chromium (Wooddell, 2008).

Across the world, over 5.5 million people are at risk of hexavalent chromium exposure (Wooddell, 2008). The most common sources of this pollution are sites for chemical manufacturing, tanneries, industrial estates, dye industries, petrochemical plants, e-waste recycling, ore processing, wood preservation, ore mining, vehicle manufacturing, cement processing, and industrial dumpsites. From these sources, hexavalent chromium is released into the environment either as dust in the air or as a contaminant in underground water. The fact that hexavalent chromium easily spreads through groundwater, air and aquatic systems from the point of its source makes it one of the most dangerous contaminants. From the environment, the chemical reaches human beings through inhalation of dusty air with the chemical, contact with contaminated water or soil, direct ingestion of water that is contaminated with the chemical, and ingestion of food that has been exposed to hexavalent (Mills-Kipp et al., 2012).

There are a number of methods often applied to remove or reduce the level of hexavalent chromium in contaminated soils. The main method involves the use of a combination of chemical, biological and physical techniques. These methods include adsorption, precipitation, ion exchange, electro-analysis, reverse osmosis, and rreduction (Daim et al., 2014). In many developing countries application of these methods in remediating contaminated sources has proved to be problematic. The major cause of this is the high cost of their putting into practice that have made them out of reach for numerous states because most of the countries affected are also relatively poor (Dhal et al., 2013). Bangladesh and Pakistan, for instance, are still poor developing countries with multiple other challenges that prevent their governments from making the effective investments in industrial safety. Apart from the high cost, there are other disadvantages that come with the use of these methods. Among them are high energy requirements and reagent consumption, incomplete removal of the metal and contamination of ground water as a result of secondary waste disposal, to list a few (Dhal et al., 2013).

In conclusion, even though the need to for developing countries to industrialize is indisputable, the goal should not be achieved at the expense of the health of citizens. In the case of hexavalent chromium pollution discussed in the paper, wealthy countries would best assist developing countries in tackling this problem through investing in research in low-cost techniques for remediation of contaminated sources. Despite of budgetary constraints, the developing countries should also invest more in safe disposal of industrial waste.

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