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DoD Releases Guide on Alternatives to Hex Chrome

In September 2012 the Department of Defense released a new guide for weapons systems program managers to assist them in choosing alternatives to hexavalent chromium (CrVI), known colloquially as hex chrome. The DoD Corrosion Policy and Oversight Office developed the guide with assistance from the DoD Corrosion Prevention and Control Integrated Product Team, comprising materials experts from across the military departments, AMMTIAC, and LMI Government Consulting. (See New Tool Helps DoD Weigh Hex Chrome Alternatives.)

Read the Analysis of Alternatives to Hexavalent Chromium

The guide is titled Analysis of Alternatives to Hexavalent Chromium: A Program Management Guide to Minimize CrVI Use (Spiral 1). It has been released to the public and can be downloaded in pdf format from the report title link above.

The guide is a compendium of information resources that provide an extensive summary of the policy, programmatic, technical, safety, and regulatory issues pertaining to the restricted use of hex chrome. "This publication was created as a resource to aid those in the acquisition community who make design and procurement decisions," said Daniel J. Dunmire, director of the Corrosion Policy and Oversight Office.

The controversy surrounding hex chrome is emblematic of the larger issue of balancing the defense needs of the nation against the desire for a cleaner environment and a safer workplace. Meeting these two goals simultaneously presents unique challenges. Weapons system program offices and their program managers must navigate through this sea of conflicting requirements to arrive at a solution that sufficiently meets both interests.

The guidebook highlights include:

  • An overview of the challenges and strategies associated with the use or omission of hex chrome.
  • A synopsis of the environmental, safety, and occupational health problems associated with hex chrome, where and how hex chrome is used in the military, and the impact that using alternatives to hex chrome may have on military systems during their service lives.
  • A summary of the policies, regulations, and DoD memoranda regarding the use of hex chrome.
  • Procedures and strategies for evaluating and validating hex chrome alternatives. It also identifies resources available to program managers as they conduct their material down-select process. Written with the program manager in mind, this section addresses the myriad issues that program managers will need to address when considering potential applications of hex chrome.
  • An alternative to the hex chrome qualification and selection process. This particular alternative is designed to serve as an engineering reference for technical personnel. The process, expressed both in text and as a flowchart, describes the recommended material selection process to evaluate and assess the suitability of alternative materials for various systems. As part of the process, it also specifies when using hex chrome would be the best option, which typically means when there is no acceptable alternative.
  • An analysis of alternatives. This includes summary information and compiled data collected relative to the performance of alternatives, compared to traditional hex chrome material systems.

Protecting the nation's weapon systems and military infrastructure from the scourges of corrosion is a constant and ongoing challenge. For many decades, the "gold standard" in corrosion prevention and control has been the use of preventative compounds containing chromates—specifically those formulated from hex chrome. These compounds have a long history of success in protecting durable assets, having accrued an extensive knowledge base from decades of judicious application. While it remains an industry staple, hex chrome is a known carcinogen that can pose serious health and safety risks to workers and adversely impact the environment.

Recent changes in EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations place tighter constraints on using hex chrome, but do not ban it outright. However, without mature alternatives that perform at the level of hex chrome, the DoD will continue to need to use hex chrome for applications in which no alternative is determined to be acceptable. Using alternatives to hex chrome, while often necessary, comes with a high degree of risk. It is incumbent upon program offices to mitigate these risks through diligent testing and the evaluation of potential alternatives.

Program managers and their engineering staffs will benefit from having this guide as a reference, as it will help their program successfully pass each milestone in an increasingly complex acquisition environment.

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