Lead Hazards

Take-Home Exposure a Widespread Problem

More than 1.5 million workers are potentially at risk of lead exposure. Far too often, that exposure is putting their families at risk unnecessarily.
By: | June 22, 2015

More than 1.5 million workers are potentially at risk of lead exposure. The problem can lead to contamination of others unless proper steps are taken, according to the government.


A routine, well child exam showed that a 2-year-old girl had a blood lead level that was nearly three times the amount the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends as a reference level.

“This serves as a warning the child may be exposed to lead at home or in the environment and may require case management,” according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “It also allows parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities to take action earlier to reduce the child’s future exposure to lead.”

In this case, the exposure was work-related. A post on the NIOSH science blog explained that the agency has found so-called take-home exposure to be a widespread problem.

Investigators conducted a lead risk assessment of the girl’s home but found no lead-based paint. However, there was lead dust on the floor of the family’s laundry room.

“Upon further testing of the family, [the father] was found to have a BLL of 25 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). NIOSH defines an elevated BLL for those over age 16 to be 10 µg/dL or more,” according to the post. The father “told the lead risk assessor that he typically came home from work at the e-scrap recycling facility with dust in his hair and on his clothes. He routinely picked up and played with his 2-year-old daughter Sarah when he arrived home, then would take a shower and throw his clothes in the laundry before sitting down for dinner.”

The agency determined that the father and his coworkers were exposed to lead as they performed various tasks at the e-scrap recycling facility such as crushing cathode ray tubes from discarded televisions and computer monitors.

“Without access to showers at work or uniforms that could be left at work for laundering, employees of the e-scrap recycling facility risked contaminating their personal clothes, vehicles, and homes with lead,” the post said. “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that approximately 804,000 workers in general industry and an additional 838,000 workers in construction are potentially exposed to lead as a result of the production, use, maintenance, recycling, and disposal of lead material and products.”

The government recommends employers help prevent take-home exposure by:

  • Reducing exposure in the workplace.
  • Having employees shower and change clothes before going home and leaving soiled clothing at work for laundering. They should also store street clothes in areas separate from work clothes.
  • Prohibiting removal of toxic substances or contaminated items from the workplace.

“Preventing take-home exposure is critical because decontaminating homes and vehicles is not always effective,” according to the post. “Normal house cleaning and laundry methods are inadequate, and decontamination can expose the people doing the cleaning and laundry.”

In the case above, the father quit his job at the e-scrap recycling facility. Three months later, his daughter’s BLL had decreased substantially.

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

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