Lead: the metal that just keeps giving

leadLead – a metal people have been using for thousands of years. I was introduced to industrial hygiene in graduate school with a project related to a fictitious “Vulcan lead foundry” as our professor assigned us to develop sampling plans to identify workplace lead exposures.  Similarly, likely every practicing industrial hygienist has spent some time sampling for lead – whether it be targeting a specific manufacturing process, during construction work involving lead paint, at shooting ranges, or even collecting water from drinking faucets.

And here in Oregon, we are continually reminded of the existence of this oldest of identified toxic metals as it still creates potential exposure risks to our communities: whether in our air, dust or water. While lead is not particularly difficult to measure and detect, it requires knowledge, discipline, and usually resources to effectively remediate its contamination. Here at our Institute’s Toxicology and OccHealth Information Center, we are always disappointed to learn about adverse exposures to substances that we have so many decades of experience that we could have – should have – learned from.

We’ve heard a lot about community exposures through our water and air, with particular concern in the vulnerability of children exposed to lead. Today’s industries with the highest potential workplace lead exposures include construction work, most smelter operations, radiator repair shops, and firing ranges, however there are many other opportunities for specialized exposures. Often, perhaps, our problems lie in either not using the appropriately trained technical staff to make decisions about lead, or not allocating appropriate funds to mitigate the problem. For after all, lead doesn’t really go anywhere on its own.

Need more information on lead? Here’s a good start:

Lead Exposure and Poisoning

Oregon OSHA Lead Resources

CDC and NIOSH Lead Publications

OccHealthSci Lead Topic

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About the Author

Dede supports the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences and the Oregon Healthy WorkForce Center's research, engagement and education programs. She is a certified industrial hygienist.

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