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UK DIY News

The Silent Killer is Still at Large

Chrome Tubes

Three weeks ago, I wrote an article on LinkedIn entitled ‘Chrome – the shiny, silent killer’, highlighting the serious health risks associated with the manufacturing of Chrome products in the Far East.

You can read the original article here.

Whilst visiting China based suppliers, trading companies and manufacturers to the DIY industry, Rothley Limited the UK based manufacturer who first unearthed this issue, have seen products being made for a wide range of the UK’s largest retail and wholesale companies. Many of these companies have their own sourcing offices based in China and have high expectations of their suppliers and their impact upon human health, as well as the environment.

However, whilst there are processes in place to observe, audit and monitor the company’s primary suppliers of finished product, it’s only when you dig deeper into the component supply chain that you observe the bad practices that remain typical in the hardware, metal processing and plating sector.

Rothley recently spent a few weeks touring the factories where they met with suppliers, processors and manufacturers who supply the China based merchants to several of the best known and largest Home Improvement retailers and suppliers of furniture fittings and architectural hardware and they witnessed what many of the large businesses never see.

The process of ‘Hexavalent chromium plating’, which uses chromium trioxide as its main ingredient, poses a significant hazard to human health. It’s both a hazardous air pollutant and a human carcinogen and the chromium plating process can release chromium in its hexavalent form into the atmosphere which if inhaled causes several cancers but most commonly, lung cancer. If you’re interested in finding out more, have a read of this US document - click here

Hexavalent Chromium is on a list of substances banned under EU regulation 1907/2006. It is acknowledged as a carcinogen and chronic exposure has been linked to lung cancer, affecting thousands of people in China who work in the plating industry.

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These pictures above were taken in China in August 2019 and show part of the process of chrome plating. Specifically, the use of the open plating tanks without (LEV) Local Exhaust Ventilation, has been banned in the UK, but it is still permitted and continues on a widespread basis in China and India. 

In the UK, the HSE has issued advice and guidance specifically to reduce the risk of exposure to hexavalent chromium, including the following:-

HSE – Working with Chromium, are you at risk?

There has been a shift in the UK to alternatives like trivalent chrome plating but this is generally seen as being technically and visually inferior to Hexavalent chrome plating.

We must therefore ask ourselves the question, why is the UK market still being flooded with a shiny, silver finished product which is putting lives at risk, whilst completely ignoring contemporary design and consumer preferences, which have long since moved on to more creative finishes like brushed copper, antique brass and gun-metal?

Why do manufacturers, suppliers and retailers continue to sell chrome plated steel products for a huge range of uses from our homes to caravans, chalets and modular homes? 

Bizarrely, the Chrome product doesn’t even perform that well. When condensation is present, the rust spots and tarnishing that inevitably show through are so easily avoided if stainless steel is used as an alternative on table, worktop legs, curtain rails bathroom fittings etc..

To date, the dominant players in the UK DIY sector have failed to respond to changing consumer, design and fashion trends and stick with timeworn products, colours and materials that every single day are putting lives at risk.

The only way to ensure that the practice of plating with hexavalent chrome in open environments stops, is to replace the entire range with an alternative material, process or finish.

Before the end of September I will be writing to each of the leading retailers in the UK asking them to outline their position on the manufacturing, sourcing and retailing of Chrome products in the UK. If you'd like to contribute to this discussion, please feel free to add your comments below.

Source : Article written by Steve Collinge in conjunction with Rothley Limited.

Steve Collinge is an international speaker, influencer, retail commentator and is Managing Director of Insight Retail Group Ltd.

You can follow Steve on LinkedIn here and on Twitter here and you can contact him directly on Steve@irg.co.uk.

20 September 2019

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