Health & Safety Watch The Dangers of Lead

Posted on 23 October 2017 by cradmin

Since the time of the Roman Empire, societies have had a strong relationship with lead and lead-based products. However, we also have a long history with believing lead is harmless altogether or in small doses. The truth of the matter is that when introduced inside the body, lead is dangerous at even the smallest levels of exposure, and it is up to employers to protect their workers from this hazard.

Lead has been used for plumbing in the U.S. since the 1800s, and by the 20th century, more than 70 percent of mid-sized to large cities were using lead pipes. In the 1900s, lead was also used in many types of interior paints, and it was used as an admixture in gasoline.

All of these leaded products continued to be used until the 1970s when Philip J. Landrigan conducted a detailed study of lead poisoning in El Paso, Texas. Based on the results, the federal government enacted several laws banning lead from plumbing, paint, gasoline and food cans. Exposure limits were also set for workers in the country.

Because of these laws, blood-lead levels among U.S. adults decreased from an average of 13.1 micrograms per deciliter in 1976 through 1980 to only 1.09 ug/dl in 2012. The blood levels in children, who are more susceptible to lead poisoning, also dropped significantly. This drop in lead is now considered one of the greatest health achievements in the last 50 years.

Countertop Installers Risk Lead Poisoning

More than 23 different occupations risk exposure to lead. OSHA estimates that 804,000 workers in general industries and 838,000 workers in the construction industry are potentially exposed to lead. Because countertop installers also often perform deconstruction and remodeling where lead-based paints and pipes are present or work in close proximity, they are also at risk.

In addition, lead exposure is prevalent for anyone working in the manufacturing or fabricating of glass, copper and brass in addition to those who work with plastics and certain chemical finishes. Finally, lead has been discovered in ceramic bathroom and kitchen tiles, usually imported.

Why Lead Is a Hazard

Workers exposed to lead in the air or from buildings and materials on the job can risk serious, long-term medical problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease and immune disorders. The body also stores lead in bones, where is slowly leaks into the bloodstream for years.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that blood-lead levels as low as 5 ug/dl are associated with decreased kidney function, and at 10 ug/dl, lead causes hypertension. However, thousands of workers continue to test at levels far above this threshold.

When lead enters the body, it creates a free radical known as reactive oxygen species (ROS). This unstable molecule is very reactive with normal human cells, and it may damage DNA and RNA and cause cells to die.

When lead is ingested or inhaled, it quickly enters the bloodstream and binds with red blood cells, which come into contact with all of the soft tissues of the body, including the brain, liver, kidneys and bone marrow. When it reaches the marrow, it is stored in the bones for decades, which is why symptoms of lead poisoning may not appear right away. The more a person is exposed, the greater the buildup and the risk of poisoning.

One of the greatest effects of lead poisoning is that it affects the developing brains of children, which may come in contact with lead dust on the clothing of parents or other adults who have been exposed. Children up to three years of age have the highest risk of suffering from long-term brain disorders, but the risk continues for children up to age six.

Signs and Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

  • Fatigue/Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Stomach Ache
  • Loss of appetite

Anyone who suspects they may have been exposed to lead should go to their doctor to have their blood tested, and if you are an employers, it is important to understand your responsibility to protect workers from lead exposure. If exposure exceeds 30 ug/cubic meter over an eight-hour period, you must comply with specific OSHA requirements to limit or prevent exposure.

SOURCE: Health and Safety Resource August-September 2017


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