Chemicals

Thousands of California Workers Have High Blood Lead Levels

A new report on lead exposure among California workers has inspired action to better protect employees and increase blood lead level (BLL) testing. Get details here.

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The California Occupational Blood Lead Registry reported on 2012-2014 data. Over the 3-year period, 38,440 workers had a blood lead level test and 6,051 were identified with elevated levels, defined as at or above five micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. Long-term exposure at elevated levels puts adults in diverse industries at increased risk for adverse health effects like hypertension, kidney disease, cognitive problems, and adverse reproductive outcomes.

The registry is a laboratory-based tracking system for adult lead tests. It is managed by the Occupational Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (OLPPP) at the California Department of Public Health.

Among key findings related to workplace lead exposure in 2012-2014:

  • The majority of workers with an elevated BLL were male, age 20-59, and had a Hispanic surname.
  • Sixty percent of those with levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood or higher worked in manufacturing, specifically in industries that make batteries, aircraft, aircraft parts, and plumbing fixtures, as well as those that build or repair ships or recover lead from scrap. Only about 14 percent worked in construction.
  • Levels of 40 micrograms or higher were found in people who worked in industries that handle lead-containing bullets and firearms, ammunition, manufacturing, gun repair, and firearm instruction.

According to the lead poisoning prevention program, “Since many employers in industries that use or disturb lead do not regularly offer BLL testing to their workers, data represented in this report do not fully describe the magnitude and distribution of elevated BLLs among California workers.”

Based on the new information, the program has launched new prevention activities. With increased testing and a more complete picture of workplace lead exposure, it anticipates better targeting of prevention efforts to industries and employers that most need them.

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