Leaded Sheetrock


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.

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

The answer is Yes.

If you are working with lead (in any amount) and you are performing any of the “trigger tasks” in construction = you must follow OSHA rules. Trigger tasks are demolition, removal, encapsulation, new construction, installation, cleanup, abrasive blasting, welding, cutting, torch burning, transporting, storing, heat gun work, sanding, scraping, spray painting, burning, welding, etc. What about the EPA rules (RRP)? Look here.

The only exceptions to not measuring employees blood lead are:

  1. On the first day of work activity, you perform air sampling (for the full shift) and can prove the airborne levels are below the Action Limits (<30 ug/m3)…or,
  2. OR…If you have relevant historical data and can prove your airborne levels during the same tasks are below the Action Limit (within the last 12 months). Relevant historical data must be REALLY relevant. Like, same work activity, same amount of lead in the paint, same general size/location, etc, etc.
These are the only exceptions.
If you choose to NOT perform blood lead monitoring the downsides are:
  • employees might already have dangerous levels of lead in their system, and you expose them to more
  • measuring blood lead levels after the exposure may indicate higher baseline blood lead levels -and you might have to pay for exposure which wasn’t your fault
  • if overexposed, and they have high blood levels – you might have to also check their family’s blood lead levels

More information on blood lead testing from my earlier post.

Leaded sheetrock is what the name says, sheetrock with a lead layer. It is used in hospital x-ray rooms and other health office clinics for containing / controlling the emitted x-rays while the machines are in use.

Plastering / Drywall companies who install this type of drywall need to follow the OSHA Construction Rules for lead work. I have heard of airborne exposures being at the exposure limits (50 ug/m3) during the installation due to the cutting and breaking of the drywall. My own personal monitoring has been below the Action Limit (30 ug/m3), but I have consistently found levels above the detection limit. This information should be taken as a caution to others.

For starters the employer will need to provide:

  • half face negative pressure tight fitting respirators with HEPA cartridges
  • protective clothing (like Tyvek (R))
  • containment (for the dust generated)
  • training (in lead and respirators)
  • hand washing / changing areas
  • HEPA vacuums for clean up
  • possibly air monitoring (by a qualified industrial hygienist)
  • possibly blood lead testing

The sheetrock should be contained during transport. Installation should be performed in a contained area with employees in respirators who are trained and competent. Clean-up should be done with HEPA vacuums. Air monitoring should be performed to assure that employees were adequately protected during their activities.

Working with this type of material is no excuse to cut corners (no pun intended). Protect your employees, the hospital, the patients, and others.