Some Adults Exposed to High Lead Levels at Work: CDC Report

Although advancements have been made in reducing the risk of lead exposure, federal health officials indicate that about 26.4 adults per 100,000 continue to suffer from elevated blood lead levels and a small group suffers from persistent lead poisoning that could affect their health.  

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on November 29, featuring an article titled Very High Blood Lead Levels Among Adults. Researchers found that in addition to those with elevated lead levels, there were several thousand with very high blood lead levels (BLL) most likely linked to workplace exposure.

Unlike most lead exposures for children, which typically come from lead paint, adults are usually exposed at work.

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Children diagnosed with lead poisoning after exposure to peeling or chipping lead paint in a rental home may be entitled to financial compensation and benefits.


When very high BLLs are detected, employers are legally required to remove them from working near the source of exposure until lead levels decrease. Persistent exposure to very high BLLs can result in spontaneous abortion, reduced newborn birthweight, neurocognitive deficits, sperm abnormalities, subclinical peripheral neuropathy, hypertension, anemia, kidney dysfunction, and other nonspecific symptoms

The CDC’s Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance (ABLES) program tracks elevated BLLs among U.S. adults nationwide. The agency considers any level of 10 µg/dL (10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood) to be elevated for adults. However, investigators also looked at data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which identifies workers who were removed from work due to lead exposure.

The researchers found 11,536 adults with very high BLLs equal to or above 40 µg/dL from 2002 through 2011. Of those, 2,210 had persistently very high BLLs. Occupational exposure to lead accounted for 91% of very high BLLs.

The data for the study came from 41 states looking at information on citizens age 16 or older.

“The findings of this report demonstrate that many adults in the United States continue to have very high BLLs. The fact that some adults had persistent very high BLLs is of grave concern,” the researchers stated. “These adults were chronically expose to lead above BLLs known to cause neurologic, cardiovascular, reproductive, hematologic, and kidney adverse effects. The risks for adverse chronic health effects are even higher if the exposure is maintained for many years.”

CDC researchers called for increased efforts by employers to reduce work-related lead exposure and to comply with federal guidance on testing and managing lead exposure to workers. The CDC also called for workers to adhere to safe work practices like washing before eating, properly using safety equipment and showering and changing clothes before going home. They also called for increased education among the medical community.


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