Why allergic chromate dermatitis to cement is still a problem in Australia


By Michael Woodhead

18 May 2020

Allergic chromium dermatitis (ACD) from exposure to wet cement continues to be a debilitating problem for many Australian construction workers despite the chromate-containing product being banned in other countries.

Dr Kate Dear of the Occupational Dermatology Research and Education Centre in Melbourne says that reducing the level of chromium in wet cement should be an urgent priority to address the problem of occupational ACD that has a notoriously poor prognosis.

In an article published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, she estimates that at least 30 Australian workers a year develop the condition as a result of sensitisation to chromium in wet cement, in whom persistent post-occupational dermatitis is common.

“There are significant adverse effects [of ACD] on quality of life, as well as marked economic consequences,” she writes.

“[And] it is very important to acknowledge that this is likely to be an underestimate. The majority of construction workers are peripatetic and many are unlikely to visit a GP or present to dermatology services, instead assuming their skin condition is ‘part of the job.”

Dr Dear notes that the EU restricted the use of chromium in cement almost two decades ago, through the simple expedient of adding ferrous sulphate to the product. This has successfully reduced the number of cases of cement related occupational ACD in Europe, a move she says is long overdue in Australia

“Despite a successful preventive solution being implemented elsewhere, Australia has been left behind internationally and an inappropriately high number of workers develop occupational ACD from chromium in cement.

“The relevant authorities should be alerted by our findings and undertake the necessary cost–benefit analyses, which will no doubt justify Australia following in Europe’s successful footsteps, by implementing legislation to add ferrous sulphate to cement.”

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