Lead is one of the Earth's fundamental substances. An element that occurs naturally in the soil and the air, lead has a long history as on of mankind's most useful metals.
In ancient times, it was a by-product of silver production but its characteristics - corrosion resistance, low melting point and malleability - soon made lead a desirable and commonly used product. Egyptians used lead for sculpture, sinkers for fishing nets, jewelry and dishes. Romans used large amounts of lead for lining water supply lines and cisterns, for roofing and shipbuilding, and as weights, cooking pots, and wine sweeteners. As a result, lead poisoning was common in Roman times.
Lead exposure continues to pose serious problems today, even though much is now known about lead and its adverse effects. Exposure is difficult to control because, once lead is removed from ore, it cannot be disposed of or changed in the environment (it can be recycled and reused, however).
Ninety percent of lead dust in surface soil will be there 70 to 200 years later.
Lead finds its way into modern life in many forms. A large proportion of the lead used today serves the automobile industry in components such as storage batteries, radiators and solder for joints. Lead is an important part of chemical tank liners and of radiation shields in telephone and power cable conduit. It also is used in solder for plumbing and some paints, especially those for ships where corrosion can be significant problem. Bullets, pottery, crystal glassware, wire and stained glass windows all may require lead.
Lead can be inhaled, ingested, and, occasionally, absorbed through the skin. Most industrial exposure is from breathing inorganic lead dust and fumes. Eating, drinking and smoking on the work site or carelessly handling contaminated objects can result in unintentional exposure to lead.
Once it enters the body, lead is stored in three places: the blood, body organs and bones. Lead stays in the blood about a month and in soft tissues for several months, it can remain in the bones for decades, a potent poison, it affects the brain and nervous system, reproductive capabilities, the kidneys, the digestive system, and the ability to make blood.
Lead poisoning can be acute (high level of exposure) or chronic (low exposure or over a long period of time). Chronic poisoning is more common in industrial settings where small amounts of lead gradually can build in the body and result in temporary or permanent damage. An elevated blood lead level indicates that lead is building in the body faster than it can be eliminated. There is a wide range of symptoms, many of which imitate other diseases.
Short-terms Effects to Lead Poisoning
Long-term Effects to Lead Poisoning
REQUIREMENTS OF THE LEAD STANDARD
The "lead standard," developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, outlines practices for reducing lead exposure and for protecting the health of workers. No employee should be exposed to lead at or above concentrations of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (mcg/M3), OSHA's permissible exposure limit (PEL). In all industries, lead concentrations of 50 mcg/m3 of air through adequate ventilation and work practice controls. If concentrations are higher, appropriate respirators must be worn by employees to keep their exposure below 50 mcg/m3 of air. Employers also must provide clean showers, change rooms and lunchrooms for their employees. The standard also specifies monitoring requirements, methods for reducing lead exposure, medical surveillance of employees to evaluate whether they are absorbing excessive lead, and medical removal protection in cases of overexposure.
Lead standard requirements are based on airborne concentrations of lead in the workplace. It should be remembered, however, that ingested lead dust can cause problems, even in work areas where airborne lead is below the PEL.
If lead exposure in the workplace is a possibility, and employer must
If monitoring shows lead levels above 30 mcg/m3 of air (OSHA's action limit) but below 50 mcg/m3 of air (PEL), an employer also must-
If monitoring shows lead above mcg/m3, an employer must -
Chelation is a medical treatment used to remove lead from the blood. Treatment for lead poisoning is to be done only under the supervision of a physician. It is not to be used routinely to keep blood lead at acceptable levels.
All items above summarize major
requirements of OSHA's lead standard (29 CFR 1910.1025). Employers should know
and comply with ALL provisions of the standard.
Employers should provide employees with adequate training, facilities, and equipment so that, whenever possible, they are able to avoid breathing or eating lead fumes or dust. All employers should be required to follow these safety practices to protect themselves.
Additional information is available from several state agencies.
The Department of Commerce and Community Affairs provides assistance to private sector companies that are seeking an evaluation of occupational safety and health hazards, including exposure to lead in their workplaces.
Illinois Department of
The Department of Labor's toxic substances section offers assistance to public sector agencies
Illinois Department of Labor
The Illinois Department of Public Health offers several forms of assistance. Those seeking assistance from a toxicologist should contact the Department's environmental toxicology section.
Illinois Department of Public Health
For assistance and information about the adult elevated blood level program and information about epidemiologic and surveillance studies, write or call-
Illinois Department of Public Health
Local or county public
health departments also may be of assistance to an employer. Please check the
local telephone directory for the name, address, and number of the local health
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