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Chromium trioxide is a dark red, crystalline solid. It is soluble in water, ethanol and ether. It can also be dissolved in nitric acid and sulfuric acid. Chromium trioxide is also a strong oxidizing agent that can ignite alcohols on contact. It is carcinogenic and corrosive. It should be kept away from combustible materials and is best used in a fume hood.
A solution of chromium trioxide in acetone can be used to oxidize a wide range of organic compounds. This reaction is an efficient catalyst for the benzylic oxidation of electron-poor toluenes (Sarett Reagent) and dibenzoyl carboxylates (Collins Reagent). It can also be employed in the one-pot synthesis of polysubstituted 2,5-dihydropyrroles from diazoalkyl acetals.
Chromium(VI) compounds are extremely toxic, eliciting contact allergic responses in sensitive individuals. Exposure to Cr(VI) dust can cause lung irritation, dermatitis, and ulcers on the hands and fingers called chrome sores or “chrome holes.” The latter appear as painless, erosive papules that take long to heal. Long-term exposure to airborne chromates has been associated with lung cancer in a dose-response relationship with time of exposure [Hayes, Lilienfeld et al. 1980].
Chromium(VI) is not found as a free element in nature, but is commercially isolated from the chromite ore FeCr2O4. The metal is primarily deposited as chromium oxide and then reduced to chromium(III) oxide by heating. Chromium is also found in small amounts as an alloy with other metals such as iron and nickel. It has 21 isotopes with mass numbers ranging from 42 to 63.