Thousands of California workers have elevated lead levels

A recent Cal/OSHA report says that more than 6,000 workers have high lead levels in their blood.

A recent report by Cal/OSHA says more than 6,000 workers in California have been found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood. According to PBS Newshour, the report found that some workers, especially those working in munitions, painting, and construction, were at especially high risk of having dangerously high levels of lead in their blood. However, Cal/OSHA believes that there are many more cases of lead exposure that are unreported because not all companies are required to test for it. While lead exposure has long been known to be dangerous, it is still used in a number of industries. The report comes at a time when Cal/OSHA is considering revising its safety standards for lead exposure.

At least 6,000 workers exposed

From 2012 to 2014, more than 38,000 workers in California were tested for lead in their blood. Those tests found that 6,051 workers had had elevated blood lead levels of five or more micrograms of lead per decliter. Most of the workers who had elevated lead levels in their blood were men between the ages of 20 and 59. Most of them also lived in Southern California and had Hispanic surnames.

The report found that workers in certain industries were far more likely to have elevated levels of lead in their bodies. Most of the workers who had 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood worked for companies that made or recycled batteries, aircraft or aircraft parts, plumbing and pipes, metal valves, and ships. Workers who had the very highest levels of lead in their blood (40 micrograms or more per deciliter) tended to work in ammunition manufacturing, gun repair, and firearm instruction, such as on firing ranges. Some also worked in construction, paint, and other metal-related industries. Because not all industries are required to test their workers for lead levels, Cal/OSHA believes that the actual number of people with elevated lead exposure is much higher than the 6,000 reported.

All exposure to lead is dangerous

As Safety.BLR notes, the federal OSHA established the first guidelines for lead exposure back in 1978 and set a threshold of 40 micrograms of lead per deciliter. However, that threshold was based on what was considered feasible at the time rather than for any health reasons. In fact, lead exposure as low as five micrograms per decileter can cause a number of adverse health effects, including hypertension, kidney damage, birth defects, reproductive problems, nerve damage, and brain damage.

Furthermore, much of the legislation aimed at limiting lead exposure is largely designed to limit children's exposure to lead. Only recently has more attention been paid to the harmful effects lead exposure can have on adults. Cal/OSHA plans on updating its current guidelines for lead exposure, the first time it will have done so in decades.

Workers' compensation

Workers who may have been injured or made unwell due to an unsafe work environment should contact a workers' compensation attorney immediately. An experienced attorney can help clients in a number of ways, including with filing a workers' compensation claims and negotiating effectively for a settlement that is in that client's best interests.