Chrome-VI in Leather Products Still a Major Issue

Ein Bericht aus unserem Laboralltag

Dr. Gabriele Steiner


Investigatory results from 380 samples of consumer goods such as clothing, shoes and jewelry accessories analyzed in the years 2015 and 2016 show that contamination with chrome-VI compounds continues to be an issue. Up to 12 % of these leather products were judged to be harmful due to the chrome-VI concentrations detected therein, thus necessitating future analyses of such items.


Illustration: Types of Samples.

Illustration: Types of Samples


Why is chrome-VI dangerous?

In their pure form chrome-VI compounds are classified as hazardous, and items that contain them must be labelled with the warning: “Inhalation of this substance can cause cancer”, and “This substance can cause an allergic reaction to the skin.” Chrome-VI compounds can cause acute irritation and even burning of the mucous membranes and skin, as well as damage to the kidneys, blood and liver. Chronic irritation and damage can also occur on the skin and mucous membranes, especially in the nose and throat region Chrome-VI compounds that come in contact with skin via, for example, tanned leather, can cause sensitization, leading to allergic skin disorders [1].

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) recommended the strict limitation of the allergenic chrome-VI in leather products as long as 10 years ago [2].


How do chrome-VI compounds get into leather?

The most important step in the manufacturing of leather is the tanning process, or the curing of the animal skin. There are different methods but, mainly for leather clothing, chrome tanning is still the most commonly used method of conservation [3]. Chrome-III compounds/salts are used for this procedure and are not, in themselves, problematic. However, they can be contaminated by chrome-VI compounds and/or be converted into chrome-VI via the oxidation that occurs during processing [2]. T he use of reducing agents, substances that would prevent this oxidation, would increase the cost of the tanning. Although there are alternatives to chrome tanning, the resulting leather materials are considered to be less durable.


What are the legal regulations?

Chrome-VI is one of the most important allergens, as measured by the frequency of occurring allergic reactions. As a result of these health concerns, the following limit values were established for chrome-VI:

The regulation established by the Consumer Goods Ordinance (BedGgstV) for products that have been put on the market before 1 May, 2015 is valid nationwide : no processing method may be applied in the manufacturing of leather-made consumer goods that results in the detectability of chrome-VI [4].

Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006 (REACH-VO) is valid for products put on the market after 1 May, 2015: it states that leather goods and products containing leather that come in contact with the skin may not be placed on the market if they are shown to contain chrome-VI in an amount of 3 mg/kg (0.0003 percent of the weight) or more of the total dry weight of the leather [5].

The BfR estimates that an exceedance of the limit value presents a „serious“ health risk, especially in terms of allergic reactions [6]. The BfR further explains that, even with compliance of the legal limit value for sensitizing substances, not all sensitized people can be sufficiently protected from exposure and its resulting contact eczema because of the large variation in sensitivity between people. Due to the lifelong sensitization and the significant impairment to an affected person’s quality of life, the BfR thus considers an exceedance of the limit value to present a serious health risk. It concludes that such an exceedance is sufficient to damage one’s health.


Info Box


When foreign substances make their way into the body the immune system is stimulated and antibodies are formed. With repeated exposure these foreign substances are recognized by the receptors and an allergic reaction is caused.


An allergy is a hypersensitive reaction of the immune system to foreign substances [7].


Analytical Results

In light of the above-mentioned situation, our investigations of chrome-VI were intensified in 2015 and 2016; a total of 380 samples of leather articles (e.g. hand gloves, belts, leather pants, shoes, accessories, wallets, and handbags) were closely examined.

The products are often made with different pieces of leather; these are separated and analyzed individually. Thus, from the 380 samples of leatherwear examined in this timeframe, there were a total of 513 analyses. The results from 58 samples were conspicuous; they were over the limit of detection of 3 mg Chrome-VI per kilogram leather material.


Illustration: Baby shoe made of 10 different leather parts.

Illustration: Baby shoe made of 10 different leather parts


Analytical Results 2015/2016
Type of Sample
Leather Parts Analyzed
Leather Parts
> Limit Value
Samples in Violation
Violations As %
Lambskins for Babies
Bicycle Gloves
Baby Shoes
Work Gloves
Leather pants


The analytical findings for the individual product groups (see table above) show that a relatively high number of the le ather pants (very popular a t festival s ) and belts were contaminated with chrome-VI. The investigations also show that baby shoes can have problems with chrome-VI content. This is especially dramatic because even babies and young children can develop a sensitization, which will result in a life-long allergy to chrome-VI compounds. Classic leather products such as shoes and inlay soles have relatively low levels of contamination.



Since consumers can’t know whether leather wear is contaminated with chrome-VI or not, only well-carried out quality assurance procedures by the manufacturer can minimize any contamination occurring from contact with leather containing chrome-VI compounds. Continued monitoring of such products is essential.



[1] Regulation (EC) No. 1272/2008 of the European Parliament and the Council from 16 December, 2008 regarding the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures. Status as of 19 July, 2016.

[2] Official Opinion of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) from 15 September, 2006 (updated on 24 May, 2007)

[3] Chrome tanning – Leather center: Leather lexicon

[4] BedGgstVO: Consumer Goods Ordinance in the version of the publication of 23 December, 1997 (BGBl. 1998 I, p. 5), last amended via Article 2 of the law from 15 February, 2016 (BGBl. I, p. 198)

[5] Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and the Council, from 18 December, 2006, for the registration, assessment, authorization and limitation of chemical substances (REACH). Status a s of 9 February, 2017

[6] BfR-Official Opinion from 6 March, 2014, Appendix 7-3727-7760803: Health-based Assessment of Chrome-VI Compounds in Leatherwear

[7] Frank Zuther, Dr. Birgit Marschner „Zum Einfluss chromgegerbter Lederhandschuhe auf Personen mit Maurerkrätze“, Juli 2004



Artikel erstmals erschienen am 11.05.2017