Allergies to wet concrete are normally caused by Hexavalent Chromium. Traces of Hexavalent Chromium are found in all cement. Hexavalent Chromium is a known allergen. Sensitization normally requires months to years of repeated exposure to occur. Wet cement is extremely corrosive and quickly destroys skin surfaces. This destruction allows Hexavalent Chromium to easily penetrate skin layers and enter skin cells.
Once you become sensitized you are sensitized for life and even exposure to a small amount of cement can trigger a severe reaction. Studies suggest that 5-15% of all concrete and masonry workers will develop a Chromium allergy at some point in their work life. Affected workers are strongly urged to find a job where Chromium exposure is eliminated.
The medical term for cement caused skin problems is
“Cement Contact Dermatitis”
There are 4 basic categories of this disease:
1. DRYNESS IRRITATION:
Portland cement is hygroscopic by nature. This means it readily takes up and retains moisture. Anyone that comes in contact with wet cement will experience skin dryness. This condition normally subsides after thorough decontamination and moisturizing.
2. CHRONIC IRRITANT CONTACT DERMATITIS
This condition is found in 80% of concrete workers. Chronic Dermatitis is caused by daily exposure to even low levels of wet cement. Incidental contact is unavoidable on the job site. Dermatitis symptoms include stinging, itching, redness, swelling, cracking, blisters, scaling, fissures and bleeding. Cuts or wounds heal very slowly and infections are likely.
3. ACUTE IRRITANT DERMATITIS (CEMENT BURNS)
Cement burns occur within a matter of minutes to hours of continuous exposure to wet cement. The burning process is accelerated when clothing, boots or gloves are saturated with wet cement and are rubbing against skin. It should be noted that skin destruction by alkalis is different from acids. Acids cause a burning sensation very quickly and alert you of the problem. Alkalis do not. Alkali damage causes no heat and no pain until it is too late to wash it off. By the time pain is felt, the alkalis have soaked into the skin. Many cement burn victims require skin grafts leaving massive scars.
4. ALLERGIC CONTACT DERMATITIS:
Hexavalent Chromium in wet cement may cause allergies in some people. The cumulative effect of daily exposure may take months or years to cause a reaction. Chrome sensitization is irreversible. Sensitized individuals must avoid contact with any cement, wet or dry. Symptoms appear much like chronic irritant dermatitis, with swelling, redness, oozing, cracking, stinging, itching, blisters and scaling.