Take-home lead: a hazard for children and adults
Adults can be exposed to lead through certain jobs, such as construction or lead smelting, as well as hobbies, such as refinishing antiques or making ammunition from lead shot. Lead dust can be carried home in their car or on their clothes, shoes, skin and hair. This lead dust can be passed on to children and other family members. "Take-home" lead can have serious effects on children's and adults' health.
Adults who work with lead can take certain safety precautions to protect themselves and their families from take-home lead. See below the impacts of take-home lead and the best ways to prevent it from causing health problems for your family.
Harmful health effects of lead
Although exposure to lead can have serious health effects for both children and adults, symptoms of lead poisoning may be subtle and hard to detect. Children under the age of six, pregnant women and developing fetuses can experience especially dangerous health effects from lead exposure.
Lead poisoning may cause learning, behavior and health problems in young children. Exposure to lead before or during pregnancy has been linked to miscarriages, premature births and stillbirths as well as infant brain and nervous system development.
Adults can also get lead poisoning. Early symptoms of lead poisoning among adults include:
- Upset stomach or stomach cramps
- Poor appetite
- Irritability, nervousness or depression
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Reproductive problems
- High blood pressure
- Lack of concentration
- Muscle and/or joint pain
Jobs or hobbies associated with take-home lead
- Battery manufacture
- Construction and demolition (including abrasive blasting)
- Radiator repair
- Lead smelting
- Lead, brass or bronze casting
- Foundry operations
- Ceramic and plastic manufacture
- Fishing tackle manufacture
- Firing range instructor or janitor
- Bridge construction or repair
- Home remodeling or renovation
- Ammunition/bullet manufacture
- Plumbing and pipefitting
- Soldering of electrical circuits
- Stained glass making
- Antique refinishing
Preventing take-home lead
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established lead standards for workers in general industrial and construction jobs. Both standards define minimum safety precautions that employers must provide for employees exposed to lead on the job. OSHA set 50 ug/dL as the blood lead level at which the worker must be removed from the work-related lead exposure. Until the blood lead level decreases to 40 ug/dL, workers may not return to the job. Contact Minnesota OSHA at (651) 284-5054 for copies of the lead standards for workers
Job- or hobby-related lead exposures don't have to go home with the working adult. The following steps can prevent take-home lead from affecting you and your family:
- Don't eat, drink or smoke on the job.
- Wash hands before eating, drinking, smoking or touching your face.
- Wear the proper protective equipment on the job, including a respirator.
- Shower, wash your hair and change into clean clothes before leaving work.
- Store street clothes in a separate locker from your work clothes.
- Wash work clothes separately from other laundry. After washing lead-contaminated clothing and removing them from the machine, run the rinse cycle once before using the washing machine again.
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Lead is more easily absorbed on an empty stomach. Proper nutrition can help reduce and prevent the absorption of lead.
- Get regular blood lead tests if your job or hobby involves working with lead.