Bayamon, Puerto Rico -- According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), while many people worry about exposure to lead in their homes or in the environment, for some, the workplace may offer the greatest potential for exposure.
Lead is a toxic heavy metal that was used frequently in the past in everything from fuels, paints and ceramics to caulking, pipes and solder. Lead can be combined with other metals to produce alloys and these materials are still used to make batteries, ammunition and other metal products.
Though used less often, NIOSH reports that lead is still common in many industries. In fact, NIOSH lists over 20 jobs and industries where workers are more likely to come into contact with lead. These range from construction workers, plumbers and painters to police officers, shipbuilders and glass manufacturers to name a few.
“In these and other industries throughout Puerto Rico, workers can be at risk of being exposed to lead by breathing it, ingesting it or coming in contact with it,” said Harry Pena, President of Zimmetry Environmental. “Preventing exposure is the only way to prevent lead poisoning so it’s critical that workers and management understand the risks and how to determine if lead or other toxic heavy metals are an exposure hazard.”
NIOSH provides the following information for workers about how lead exposure can occur:
· Workers can be exposed by breathing-in lead fumes or lead dust. Lead fumes are produced during metal processing, when metal is being heated or soldered. Lead dust is produced when metal is being cut or when lead paint is sanded or removed.
· Lead dust can settle on food, water, clothes and other objects. If a worker eats, drinks or smokes in areas where lead is being processed or stored, they could ingest it. Not washing one’s hands before eating or touching one’s mouth are also ways it could be ingested.
· Workers can also be exposed by coming into contact with lead dust. Some studies have found lead can be absorbed through skin. Workers that handle lead and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth, could be exposed. Lead dust can also get on clothes and hair. If this happens, it’s possible that a worker could track home some of the lead dust, which may also expose their family.