Adult Lead Poisoning Questions
How Are Workers Exposed to Lead?
Adult lead poisoning commonly occurs from exposure to lead used in the workplace. Workers can inhale lead dust or fumes, or swallow dust while eating, drinking, or smoking through hand-to-mouth contact. Workers can take lead home with them from the job site, which can contaminate their homes and put their families at risk. Adults can also be exposed during certain hobbies that use lead.
Which Jobs or Occupations Involve Lead?
- Contractors who renovate or repair homes or buildings built before 1978
- Workers who sand, scrape or blast lead-based paint
- Recyclers of metal, electronics, and batteries
- Construction workers
- Demolition workers who work on old structures or who cutting torches
- Firing range workers, gunsmiths, or police officers
- Foundries and scrap metal operations
- Lead smelters
- Manufacturers of bullets, ceramics, electronics, or jewelry
- Bridge construction and repair
- Steel workers
What are Some Hobbies that Involve Lead Exposure?
- Shooting in indoor ranges
- Making bullets or fishing sinkers
- Making pottery, stained glass, or jewelry
- Home renovations, furniture refinishing
- Car or boat repair
How Can Workers Put Their Family at Risk?
People who have jobs or hobbies that involve lead may bring lead dust into your home on work clothes, skin, or equipment. This is called ‘take home lead’ and it can expose anyone who comes in contact with it. Washing work clothes or uniforms at home can contaminate other family members clothing.
How Can Lead Exposures be Reduced to Protect My Family and Myself?
- Wash your hands and face before you eat, drink, or smoke.
- Do NOT eat, drink, or smoke in areas of lead dust and fumes.
- Keep your work areas clean using wet cleaning methods and/or using a HEPA vacuum rated for lead dust. Do not dry sweep or use compressed air to remove lead dust.
- Wear a clean, properly fitted respirator (not a dust mask) equipped with P100 or equivalent filter in all work areas that have lead dust or fumes. To ensure the best fit, shave prior to wearing.
- Store your street clothes in your locker.
- Shower and change into clean clothes and shoes before you leave work or hobby area.
- Wash your clothes at work if possible. Otherwise, wash and dry separately from other family members clothing.
- Keep your vehicle free of lead dust and contamination.
- Keep children away from work and hobby areas.
- If you work with lead, follow the health and safety protocol for your workplace.
For more information on preventing childhood lead poisoning, see Preventing Lead Poisoning.
What is Nebraska Doing to Protect Workers and Families?
Nebraska administers an Adult Blood Lead Epidemiological and Surveillance (ABLES) Program. The Nebraska ABLES program tracks all adult blood lead tests conducted in state and notifies adults with elevated blood lead levels. For more information about the program, see Nebraska ABLES Program.
What are the Health Effects of Lead?
Lead can enter the body in two ways. It can be inhaled (breathed in) or it can be ingested (swallowed) by getting it on the hands, clothes, facial hair, food, drinks, or cigarettes. Once lead gets into the body, it can stay there for a long time. Lead can build up in your body to dangerous levels even if you are exposed to small amounts of lead over a long period of time.
Health effects from adult lead poisoning can include:
- Brain and nervous system damage
- High blood pressure
- Digestive problems
- Kidney problems
- Reproductive problems (low birth weight, spontaneous abortion, postnatal developmental delay)
- Hearing, vision, and muscle coordination complications
What are the Signs of Lead Poisoning?
- Tiredness or weakness
- Metallic taste in mouth
- Poor appetite
Later signs are:
- Stomach aches and pains
- Muscle and joint pains
- Memory loss
- Weight loss
- Trouble sleeping
It is important to remember that lead may hurt your body even if you do not feel sick or are showing the above signs. Overexposure to lead can cause serious damage even if the person has no symptoms. A blood lead test is the only way to find out if an adult has lead poisoning.
What Does Your Blood Lead Level Mean?
A blood test is the most common test for lead. It measures how much lead is in your bloodstream and is expressed in micrograms per deciliter of blood (µg/dL).
- ≥ 80 µg/dL : Serious and permanent health damage likely. Seek medical evaluation immediately (Extremely elevated)
- 40-80 µg/dL: Serious health damage can occur. Receive prompt medical evaluation (Elevated)
- 25-40 µg/dL: Cardiovascular, kidney, cognitive and reproductive effects may occur (Elevated)
- 10-25 µg/dL: Health damage may be occurring, even if you have no symptoms (Elevated)
- 1-10 µg/dL: Some exposures are occurring and lead is building up in the body.
* 1.4 micrograms is the typical level for U.S. adults.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that blood lead levels among all adults be reduced to below10 µg/dL. Pregnant women with blood lead levels higher than 10 µg/dL can have negative reproductive outcomes, such as low birth weight, spontaneous abortions, and developmental delay in their children.
If you have an elevated blood lead level, visit a health care provider and receive medical evaluation. Ask your medical provider about follow-up testing to make sure your blood lead levels are not increasing. If you think you were exposed to lead at your job, ask your employer about OSHA regulations.
What are Employers Required to Do?
The U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires checking workers’ blood lead levels when air sample tests show that lead dust and fumes are greater 30 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) of air (OSHA, 29 CFR 1910.1025).
OSHA regulations require that a worker be removed from the workplace lead exposure, when his/her blood lead level is greater than 50 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL).
When a worker is removed from a job because of elevated blood lead levels, he or she must be placed in a job that will not expose him/her to lead at or above the action level of 30 μg/m3. The employer may return the worker to the former job when the worker’s blood lead level drops below 40 μg/dL.