Even though lead poisoning is often discussed relating to children because of the serious effects it has on their brain development, many adults are at risk for lead poisoning at work. In fact, thousands of people in the United States work under conditions where enough lead is present to harm their health.
Workers in certain industries are more at risk
Lead is present in many industries, including some you might not expect. We often think of children accidentally eating paint chips and being exposed to lead, but adults are more often exposed through breathing in lead dust. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the body absorbs higher levels of lead when it is breathed in. You might be exposed to dangerous levels of lead if your work involves:
- Construction or painting
- Battery manufacturing or recycling
- Indoor shooting ranges
- Recycling scrap metal
- Making or repairing radiators
- Builds or repairs with lead, brass, or bronze
Lead dust you encounter at work can also end up in your home. It sticks to work clothes or shoes, or gets in your car, and soon your children are exposed as well.
How does lead poisoning affect adults?
Even low levels of lead can be dangerous if you are exposed over many years at the same job. In the short term, lead poisoning may cause abdominal pain, headaches, memory loss and muscle weakness. But, lead could be causing damage to the body even if someone has no obvious symptoms.
If exposed for a long period of time, high levels of lead in adults can lead to:
- High blood pressure, which increases risk of heart attack or stroke
- Decreased kidney function
- Increased risk of miscarriage
- Brain damage causing tremors, mood swings and other problems
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering
- Reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm
- Mood disorders
At work or at home, lead continues to cause concern for California families. Those working in at-risk industries should have their blood lead level checked regularly. Employers are also required by law to provide protections from lead exposure. If you’re concerned about lead exposure at your job, Cal/OSHA’s Lead in the Workplace Helpline can provide more information: (866) 627-1587.