Background: The process for leather material production is carried out in developing countries using a large amount of trivalent chromium [Cr(III)]. Assesment of health risks for millions of workers in tanneries worldwide that are highly polluted with Cr(III) is needed. Methods: Levels of total Cr and its chemical species in wastewater samples from tannery built-up areas of Bangladesh were investigated. Cr-mediated renal damage was assessed in 100 male tannery workers by epidemiological analysis consisting of questionnaires and measurements of levels of urinary Cr and urinary renal damage markers [urinary levels of total protein and kidney injury molecule-1 (KIM-1)]. Results: High levels of total Cr (mean ± standard deviation = 1,908,762 ± 703,450 μg/L) were detected in wastewater samples from 13 sites of tanneries. More than 99.99% of total Cr in the wastewater was Cr(III), indicating that workers in the tanneries were exposed to large concentrations of Cr(III). Cr levels (mean ± standard, 2.89 ± 4.23 μg/g creatinine) in urine samples from the workers in tanneries were >24-fold higher than the levels in a general population previously reported. Multivariate analysis showed significant correlations between urinary levels of Cr and urinary levels of renal damage biomarkers. Nagelkerke Pseudo R2 values also showed that Cr level is the strongest contributor to the levels of renal damage biomarkers in the workers. Conclusion: Our results newly suggest that excess exposure to Cr(III) could be a risk for renal damage in humans.
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