Lead


Honestly, I did not think lead exposure to adults (and even kids in small amounts) was an issue. Mainly because:

  • OSHA has good (protective) rules on lead in construction (updated in 1993) and they mimic the ACGIH TLVs.
  • We all have lead in our blood. (…and I seem to be doing fine)
  • We are doing better as a society. For example: no more* leaded gasoline.

But, one technical session last year at a conference changed my mind. We have a long ways to go.

The point: low levels of lead may have significant health consequences. And, if you have lead (Pb) in your body–it is from a source.

If I haven’t convinced you, the CDC is also considering ANOTHER reduction in childhood blood lead levels. In 2012 they reduced the advisory blood lead levels (in children) to 5 ug/dl. Later this month (Jan 17, 2017) they are meeting to consider reducing this level to 3.5 ug/dl! Whether of not they reduce it, the fact they are considering it should further our attention.

And, if you think this just applies to industries with heavy lead, think again. It has A LOT to do with construction.

“Construction Program researchers and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) conducted a surveillance study in 1993 and 1994 involving the voluntary participation of 46 construction workers’ families. BLL (blood lead level) testing of young children indicated that the workers’ children, particularly those under age six, were at greater risk of having elevated BLLs (≥ 10 µg/dL) than children in the general population”

We (you) must pinpoint the source of your lead exposure. And, it may not be obvious. Since lead exposure can occur from airborne levels and by ingestion, the sources of lead exposure can vary widely.

For example, in Flint, Michigan they changed water sources to a more natural one. But, *spoiler alert*, the water had more salt – which was corrosive – which leached higher levels of lead from the pipes. Other sources can include: kids toys, jewelry, fishing weights, battery recycling, glass manufacturing, etc. (the picture of the above light pole looks like galvanized metal, but actually contained 45% leaded paint!)

What to do…

  • Train and make people aware of the issue (free video that we produced! 1:31)
  • Blame someone. Just kidding. Find the source of your lead exposure.
  • Before starting a project, know where the lead paint is, and the activities you plan on performing.
  • Get your blood tested for lead levels
  • Wear the proper PPE and ESPECIALLY have good hygiene
  • Perform air monitoring (and probably wipe sampling) to verify lead is not escaping from project.

Exciting news! In just a few months we will be releasing free training materials!

In summary: I applied (and obtained) a grant through OSHA to produce training materials for the four major health hazards in construction. We are titling it, “Focus 4 Health Hazards for Construction”.  (similar to the Focus 4 Susan Harwood training materials available at OSHA)

Indented audience is for younger construction workers in hazard recognition of, 1. silica, 2. noise, 3. asbestos and 4. lead (pb) in construction. A short video (1-4 minutes) for each subject gives an introduction to the hazard. And, to follow up a training power point presentation (and short summary) will also be available to further instruct people in how to control and protect themselves.

On a personal level…it has been exhausting, and I’ve learned a lot!  From obtaining the grant, to hiring a videographer, filming, securing filming sites, and quarterly reports…. exhausting.  But, I’m confident you (and others) will enjoy it. Subscribe (via email) to keep updated. You can also follow me on instagram: “adventuresInIH”. (link coming)

grant filming

If you are in the United States, you have probably been hearing issues with lead (Pb) exposures. The main focus lately has been in Flint, Michigan and their (new) source of water, which contains high levels of the metal. Wiki here.

So, who is to blame?

The NY Times suggests we should blame HUD for the millions of pounds of lead in paint. However, I’m not so sure we can cast all of the blame on them, the legislators, or manufactures. But, we are going to be dealing with lead exposures in the future.

I do not know the depth and extent to which lead poisoning is occurring throughout the US. I’m not sure anyone really does. But, there are MANY sources of lead exposure. For example: leaded gasoline (tetraethyl lead) was used in the past, aviation fuel (av gas low lead) still is, lead in paint, lead in copper pipe solder, lead in fishing weights, lead in ammo, lead in sheet rock, lead in Chineese toys…I could go on.

Bottom line though, if you (or your kids) have elevated lead levels,…there is a source. So, What To Do? Here’s my takeaways:

  • Test you & your kids for their blood lead levels.
    • It is a very established method, but isn’t an exact science. Don’t freak out if they are above “background” levels. Just do what you can.
    • The CDC recently lowered their recommended blood lead threshold to 5 ug/dl of blood.
    • Don’t do chelation therapy, unless the blood lead level is REALLY high. How high? I’m not a doctor.
    • DO eat lots of vegetables and fruit. These have found to lower lead levels the best (but maybe not the fastest).
  • Find the source.
    • Keep looking, there might be more than one. School, work, hobbies, nearby businesses, daily activities.
    • Measure: dirt, water, paint, your workplace.
    • Consider how small an amount is dangerous. 5 micrograms in 1 deciliter of blood. 5 micrograms is 5 millionth of a gram. A fruit fly weighs about 200 micrograms. So, cut a fruit fly into 200 pieces, take 5 of them…you get the idea.
  • Tell others.
    • Recommend that others investigate for themselves.

lead paint

I titled this post, “hazards of drywall”, but it encompassing most of the common hazards of plaster, mud, gypsum, wall-hangers, tapers, and acoustic employees.

  1. Corrosive drywall.

    I have not dealt with this subject on a personal level. However, AIHA has a new guidance document titled, “Assessment and Remediation of Corrosive Drywall: An AIHA Guidance Document“, which is a clarification of an earlier white paper document from 2000, titled, “Corrosive Drywall“. The danger is from a specific type of drywall which was imported from China. After installation it is known to emit sulfide vapors, which corrode copper (electrical wires), and can give off a sulfur smell (HT to JeffH in Ohio).

  2. Asbestos in mud/plaster.

    Be aware, some older buildings (pre 1980s) may have asbestos in the mud compound or plaster (not as common). This will be a concern if you are performing demo on these walls. Info here.

  3. Silica (dust) in joint (mud) compound.

    Some types of silica I have found to have silica. This can be an issue when sanding. AND, if you install drywall like me…you do a lot of sanding. More information from an earlier post can be found here. NIOSH has some suggestions too.

  4. Leaded sheetrock. If you are installing (or demo) leaded sheetrock, you NEED to protect yourself. Airborne levels of lead can approach the exposure limits, even during installation. More info here.
  5. Lead in paint. If you’re tying into existing plaster/drywall and there’s paint, you need to know if there’s lead in it. Sanding on the paint is a good way to be exposed. More info here.
  6. Ergonomics. Hanging the wallboard takes a toll on your body after 20 years (or less). Not to mention sanding. Washington OSHA (L&I) has a good demo.
  7. Noise. Cutting steel studs, powder actuated tools (there’s lead exposure too, you know).
  8. Skin hazards. Cutting, but also dermatitis from prolonged exposure to dust.
  9. Eye hazards. Dust, carpentry, etc. Working overhead is an easy way to get falling items in your eyes.
  10. Falls. Last on my list, but certainly not the least. Scaffolding, working from ladders, and using stilts, to name a few.

Hypothetically (and allegedly):demo1

  • You receive a project as a subcontractor.
  • You are verbally told no asbestos or lead onsite. Only that’s not true.
  • There is asbestos, and you, and multiple other subs, have disturbed it.
  • The prime contractor says, “oops”. Has the materials tested, and then blames the owner for not letting them know.
  • OSHA is called and citations are issued to the owner and GC for not testing and telling people.
  • A year goes by and now both the owner and GC are being sued by 5 employees for $10,000,000 (yep $10 million, that’s the max BTW).
    • As a footnote: this incidentally is not a worker compensation case (yet) since they are not suing their employer (they are suing the GC and owner)

Even if the employees don’t win $10m, are you prepared for: the headache, loss of client-relationship, trust breaking? Here’s a similar hypothetical article about such a situation.

On the flip side, here are some positive things you can do:

  • get a written copy of the building survey (lead & asbestos) ALWAYS. (you might also ask for cadmium, radon, other possible hazardous substances)
  • Train your employees about asbestos prior to having to deal with it.
  • Give employees the power to “stop work” if they are suspicious of possible asbestos containing material (PACM).
  • When handing out a building survey to your subs, get their acknowledgment (in writing, of course)
  • Fight your OSHA citations. Go to your informal conference. Present your evidence and, at the very least, beg for forgiveness.

Industrial hygiene (aka occupational hygiene) focuses on occupational-related diseases due to many reasons.home fireplace

Have you considered, at your home, maybe even as you sleep, you might be exposed to something hazardous? Below are seven possible hazards in your home (related to IH):

  1. Radon. It comes from the ground and they say it causes cancer* (*some people question this toxicological data). You must perform a test to know if you have hazardous levels.
  2. Formaldehyde. If you have a newer house you have 2 things going against you: 1. your house is tightly built (no air leaks and limited fresh air) and 2. more particle board (recycled wood) was used in construction. Also, many furniture contains multidensity fiber wood (MDF) which off gas formaldehyde. Again test for it to know if you have dangerous levels.
  3. Lead. Is your house built prior to 1978? It probably has leaded paint. Any remodeling might distrupt it and you can expose your kids to lead.
  4. Isocyantes. (HDI, TDI, MDI, and others) Can cause asthma & respiratory issues. If your house was insulated with spray foam (polyurethane type) it needs to off-gas for awhile before you move right in.
  5. Asbestos. Causes cancer when airborne. If your house was built prior to 1980, you might have asbestos in your pipe insulation, popcorn ceiling, etc. Be sure and have it checked prior to remodeling.
  6. Mold. Respiratory diseases.
  7. Cleaning products. The symptoms can vary depending on the type of chemicals in the product. Use the recommended gloves, eye protection and respirator, if necessary, while cleaning with chemicals.

Do not be overly concerned about any one thing. Simply test and make any necessary adjustments. However, do keep in mind that most health recommendations for substances relate to normal working adults who go home to a non-hazardous place. There can be issues if you are either: not considered in the general population of healthy workers and, you go home to a place that isn’t free of additional hazards.

There are some things in occupational hygiene which make our job harder: politics, money, personalities, fiction (not facts), rules/laws and schedules.

However, there is one person who we can blame. Maybe not entirely, but he epitomizes the opposite of protecting people’s health. Thomas Midgley, Jr. Who? Yea, he’s new to me too. Thomas Midgley

This guy has killed millions of people. Maybe not directly, but through his politics and lack of ethics. Here is a great article from Seth Godin on this guy. Essentially he allowed lead to be added to gasoline, AND, helped to provide CFC (chlorofluorocarbons) to products. However, he probably got what he deserved: He died from his inventions. It is easy to look at hindsight and blame him, but at the time, I wonder what he was thinking? My guess is money.

The enemy of Occupational Hygiene is probably not Thomas Midgley. It’s our ethics. If we fail to make the right choice every time, where does that lead us?

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t suffer from an ethical-failure to protect people. (Most people in safety don’t.) Rather, you should pat yourself on the back and keep doing the right thing. Good job.

 

If you have a building built pre 1985 (I know this date can be different, but I’m playing it safe) before bidding a project you need to have an asbestos survey performed, called a building inspection.danger asbestos Honestly, they usually aren’t done before bidding. SOMETIMES, they’re performed before starting the work (not good).

How do you find a good building inspector? …Google?, Yellow pages (who does that anymore?) Abatement contractor?

Whomever you hire, make sure they have a current AHERA Building Inspector Certificate. This is a Federal program maintained by TSCA Title II EPA AHERA/ASHARA Model Accreditation Program. This is your only recourse if something goes wrong. It doesn’t matter if have have a PhD, CIH, ROH, CSP and MBA, they MUST have a current AHERA Building Inspector Certificate.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Does the Building Inspector have a current certificate?
  • Will they sample for asbestos?
  • Which lab will they use for analysis? Their own? (not always a bad thing)
  • Which areas are they unable to access in the building?
  • Will they check for leaded paint?
  • Will they take pictures?
  • How long till you will get the results & report?
  • Will they write a report?
  • Are they capable of performing air monitoring? (worth asking, but not a deal-breaker)
  • Will they look back at previous records / management plans?
  • Cost?

Good luck in your search. As most things, a good referral from a friend is probably a great starting spot.

Looking back at my lead in construction posts, I realized I did an inadequate job of summarizing why construction activities are dangerous when working with lead.

If you work in construction, here’s are the quick points as to why you should be concerned about lead.

  • There has been A LOT of lead added to paint over the years. (it can vary 0.01% to upwards of 20%, and there’s no way to tell by looking)
  • The activities we do in construction disturb this paint (some worse than others)
  • You can be exposed to paint by inhaling it (if it is airborne), and if you happen to get it on your hands and you eat it (by transfer).
  • The real concern is kids. (your kids, the kids who might be there after you’re gone, AND, the kids unborn (lead exposure can go from mom to baby)

The solution is simple (and, of course, more complicated as you dig in):

  • test the paint to see if there’s lead in it
  • if you disturb it, follow the rules (OSHA, EPA, HUD, City, etc.)
  • train your employees (and measure the lead in their blood)
  • prevent the dust from going everywhere (containment)
  • measure the air to see if you are really screwing it up, or doing a good job.
  • finally clean up. (the area, you, your hands, the perimeter) and dispose properly

You must follow both. (I’ve mentioned this before)

OSHA’s rules are very detailed and apply to any amount of lead in paint (even less than 0.5%) if you are disturbing it. The only time OSHA rules do not apply is:

  • if you are working as a sole-proprietor (no employees), or
  • if you are in some other country.

EPA’s rules are just a start. They apply to any residential facility where there are kids under the age of 6. OSHA’s rules are much more comprehensive and protective. (in some instances, overkill)

To EPA’s credit, they have done a great job of marketing and letting contractors know they insist on compliance. OSHA, on the other hand, only inspects 2% of businesses/year and does virtually no marketing. The chances of OSHA showing up on any given jobsite, is nearly 0%.

OSHA’s rules are very complete and comprehensive. You WILL need air monitoring, blood monitoring, PPE, change areas, water/sanitation, and training. The worst thing you can do is NOT follow the OSHA rules, find overexposures, and then try to “make up” for it. From my experience this scenario is a bad place to be, and happens all the time.

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