Occupational Exposure


Lead exposure occurs in numerous occupations throughout Kansas. Occupational exposure to lead can be extremely hazardous to both the exposed worker as well as any individuals residing with the exposed worker. Lead dust created through occupational or other means can settle on skin, hair, clothes, and other take home materials. If not handled correctly, lead dust can be transferred to vehicles and homes where family members are exposed. This is especially dangerous if the exposed worker resides with children under the age of six, considered the at-risk age group for lead poisoning or with a pregnant woman because fetuses can become lead poisoned before birth.

The leading cause of lead poisoning in adults is through inhalation of lead dust or lead vapor. However, lead can also enter the body through ingestion or through skin contact while working with certain chemicals and solvents. No matter what the source of lead exposure, the end result is always the same. Once lead enters the body, it is absorbed by the lungs and/or the digestive tract. The lead then enters the bloodstream and is distributed to all tissues throughout the body. Health effects as a result of lead exposure are directly related with the concentration of lead. At low levels of exposure, slight changes in nervous system function and muscle and joint pain can occur. High levels of lead exposure have been associated with memory and concentration problems, extreme tiredness, reproductive problems, kidney failure and even coma or death. As a result, it is pertinent that any individual exposed to lead practice safe-work techniques. Occupations associated with high risk of lead exposure include:

Battery manufacturing and recycling

Battery manufacturing plants are the leading source of occupational lead poisoning cases in Kansas. In fact, over 90% of adults tested and found to have elevated blood lead levels in Kansas are employed by a battery manufacturing plant. Lead exposure can occur through a variety of ways in the battery manufacturing process. As lead is melted down to create lead batteries, a toxic vapor is created. This vapor is easily inhaled causing lead to enter the bloodstream and be distributed throughout the body. Lead in the form of lead oxide is used in the pasting process in battery manufacturing. Lead oxide can be extremely harmful if either ingested or inhaled. Any individual employed by a battery manufacturing or recycling plant should be especially cautious of lead exposure and should always follow safe-work practices.

Remodeling and renovation projects

The federal government did not ban residential lead-based paint until 1978. RemodelAs a result, any dwelling built before this date may contain lead-based paint. In Kansas, this includes over 80% of housing units throughout the state. If you are disturbing a painted surface in pre-1978 housing, special precautions should be taken. Sanding and scraping lead-based paint creates airborne lead dust, which is easily inhaled. This is hazardous to the adult performing the work as well as any other family members near the work site. Inhalation or ingestion of lead dust can cause numerous health effects. After initially entering the body, lead seeps into the bloodstream and is distributed throughout the body. Following safe work practices will help protect you and your family.

Demolition work

As with remodeling and renovation projects, demolition work that involves lead-based paint can be extremely hazardous. Disturbing lead-based paint creates an airborne lead dust that is easily inhaled and/or ingested. Demolition workers should be especially careful while working on non-residential projects. The federal government banned the use of residential lead-based paint, but has no regulations concerning the use of lead-based paint on commercial property. As a result, demolition workers should follow lead safe-work practices while working on pre-1978 residential projects as well as any commercial property projects.

Ammunition manufacturing

Lead melts at a reasonably low temperature. This, along with the fact that lead is an extremely durable metal, makes lead an attractive component used in bullets. Special precautions should be taken when melting lead and molding bullets. The process of melting lead causes a lead vapor, which is extremely poisonous and can be easily inhaled. Melting lead should always occur in a well-ventilated area in the absence of children or pregnant women, as they are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead poisoning.

Automotive/radiator repair

Radiator repair work as well as automotive refurbishing shops is one of the leading sources of adult lead poisoning nationwide. The primary source of lead exposure in radiator repair shops is due to lead soldering. Soldering lead creates an extremely poisonous lead vapor, which is easily inhaled. After inhalation, lead enters the bloodstream and is distributed throughout the body. Any individual working in automotive repair should be aware of hazards associated with lead exposure and as a result should always follow lead safe-work practices.

Soldering as in electronic manufacturing

Plumbing

Lead is a highly malleable and ductile metal that is often used in manufacturing. Soldering lead as in electronic manufacturing creates an extremely poisonous lead vapor, which is easily inhaled. Any individual involved in lead soldering should always follow safe-work practices to avoid lead poisoning.

 

Painting

Any occupation that deals with lead-based paint should be cautious of the possibility of lead poisoning. Due to its strong ability to resist corrosion and its ability to adhere to different types of surfaces, lead-based paint is still used on industrial machinery and equipment as well as major structural systems such as bridges. Furthermore, painters that disturb lead-based paint should wet methods before disturbing the surface rather than sanding and scraping the lead-based paint. Painters still using lead-based paint should be aware of the effects of lead and should follow safe-work practices.

Plumbing

Many plumbing activities in older residences involve disturbing lead-based paint. This creates airborne lead dust which is easily inhaled and/or ingested if safe-work practices are not followed. Plumbers involved in lead soldering activities should be aware that lead when melted, creates a toxic poison that is easily inhaled.

Welding

Welding

Welders are often exposed to lead through soldering activities. Soldering lead creates an extremely poisonous lead vapor, which is easily inhaled. After inhalation, lead enters the bloodstream and is distributed throughout the body. In order to prevent lead poisoning, welders involved in lead soldering should follow lead-safe work practices.

 


Bureau of Environmental Health
Curtis State Office Building

1000 SW Jackson, Suite 330
Topeka, KS 66612-1274
Phone: 1-866-865-3233
FAX: (785) 296-5594
BEH@kdheks.gov