According to a new report from the Oregon Health Authority, some manufacturing and construction jobs still have an increased risk for high blood-lead levels – especially jobs involving battery manufacturing, painting, and wall covering.
The report, Adult Blood Lead Reporting in Oregon, 2006-2010, summarizes the results of 33,400 adult blood-lead tests from Oregon’s Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance program (ABLES).
Adult exposure to lead typically occurs when dust and fumes are inhaled or the dust ends up on hands, food, or cigarettes, for example, then swallowed.
Work-related exposures accounted for the majority of elevated blood-lead levels reported, especially at levels of 25 micrograms/deciliter or higher. According the report, there were 548 work-related cases involving workers who had elevated blood-lead levels. ABLES defines an elevated blood level as “greater than or equal to 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.” The majority of cases were in the storage battery manufacturing category (42.4 percent). Painting and wall covering contractors had the next highest percentage (8.0 percent), followed by iron and steel mills (7.3 percent). There were 33,400 tests for blood lead in Oregon from 2006 to 2010.
Often, individuals with elevated blood lead levels do not appear sick. However, recent evidence suggests that lead exposure at levels previously believed to be of little concern can result in chronic health effects if the exposure continues for many years.
The Oregon ABLES program also provides Oregon OSHA with information on firms whose employees have tested blood lead levels that are 25 micrograms per deciliter or higher. This allows Oregon OSHA to target workplaces where workers are at the highest risk for lead exposure.