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March 24, 2019 - 3:12pm

Public Health Column: Most elevated lead levels in adults comes from the workplace

Public Health Column from the Genesee County Health Department:

Do you know that 80 percent of elevated lead levels in adults come from workplace exposures? Adults who do work in construction, auto repairs, paint, weld steel, or even reconstruct bridges have high chances of being exposed to lead.

Exposure can also occur during renovation or remodeling activities in homes built before 1978 when personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves aren’t used. Adults are typically exposed to lead when it is ingested through food, water, cigarettes, contaminated hands, or by inhaling lead fumes or dust.

People with these jobs also risk bringing home dust with lead on their work clothes, skin or equipment. It’s referred to as “take-home lead” and can expose anyone who comes in contact with it to lead.

Brenden Bedard, director of Community Health Services of Genesee and Orleans counties, said it's important to minimize take-home lead exposure.

“By bringing lead into your home, you are putting your family at risk, especially if you have children," Bedard said. "Lead can severely impact a child’s intellectual development, even in the womb, as well as cause other negative health effects for adults.

If your work involves any of the jobs listed above or if you have a hobby involving any type of renovations or remodeling, it is important that you get tested for lead by your Primary Care Doctor.”

According to the New York State Department of Health, lead levels between 10 and 25 micrograms per deciliter of blood (μg/dL) shows that there has been an exposure to lead and will require further actions for treatment. In 2013, the national prevalence rate of blood leads levels ≥10 μg/dL was 20.4 adults per 100,000 employed.

When lead is exposed to the body, about 90 percent is stored in bones and the rest is distributed to the brain, liver and kidneys. When your body undergoes changes such as aging and pregnancy, lead in the bones can be released into the blood leading to higher blood lead levels and increased likelihood of symptoms.

Lead exposure can be very damaging to your health and even lead to death if exposure is extremely high. Some symptoms include high blood pressure, vision or hearing problems, digestive issues, memory loss, seizures, headaches, pain or tingling in the hands and/or feet, and even feelings of weakness.

Tips to Protect Yourself From Lead:

  • Monitor blood lead levels;
  • Shower after working;
  • Wash your hands before you drink, eat, or smoke;
  • Change clothes before going home;
  • Wash work clothes separately;
  • Wear a fitted respirator with a HEPA filter when working with lead and dust fumes;
  • Participate in your employer's lead screening program.

Lead should be taken seriously and it is important to get tested if you think you may be at risk. For information about lead, click here or contact your local Health Department.

  • Genesee County Health Department at: 344-2580, ext. 5555, or visit their website here.

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