Adults and Lead: Frequently Asked Questions
How are adults exposed to lead?
Adult lead poisoning commonly occurs from exposure to lead used in the workplace. Workers may inhale lead dust and fumes directly, or swallow lead dust while eating, drinking, or smoking on-the-job. Adults can also be exposed during certain hobbies and activities where lead is used.
Adults can be exposed to lead if they work in:
- Painting, remodeling or renovation
- Radiator, battery or automotive repair
- Ceramics making and glaze mixing
- Soldering or cutting metal
- Bridge construction and repair
- Jewelry making
- Demolition of old buildings
- Foundries and scrap metal operations
Adults can be exposed to lead if they have the following hobbies:
- Using and making/melting fishing sinkers
- Making bullets or shooting in indoor firing ranges
- Welding, auto or boat repair
- Making of ceramics, stained glass, or jewelry
- Furniture refinishing, home remodeling or painting
People who work in lead related industries may bring lead dust into the home on their clothes and bodies exposing family members. Good hygiene needs to be observed to avoid bringing lead dust into the home from the work place. By following a few simple precautions listed below, hobbyists can also reduce the risk of exposure to lead and protect themselves and their families.
What are the symptoms of lead poisoning in adults?
People with high levels of lead in their bodies often do not seem sick. The symptoms that occur are very general and can happen for many reasons. Overexposure to lead can cause serious damage even if the person has no symptoms. A blood lead test is the only way to find out if an adult has lead poisoning. Lead is a powerful poison that stays in your body a long time. It can build up in your body to dangerous levels even if you are exposed only to small amounts of lead over a long period. An elevated blood lead level shows that lead is building up in your body faster than it can be eliminated.
Signs or symptoms that may be related to over-exposure to lead are:
- Tiredness or weakness
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Aches or pains in stomach
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
How does lead affect adults?
- Brain and nervous system damage
- High blood pressure
- Digestive problems
- Kidney problems
- Reproductive system problems
- Hearing, vision and muscle coordination problems
How can I protect my family and myself?
- Do not eat, smoke or drink when you are working. Before breaks or eating, wash your hands and face to avoid swallowing lead dust.
- Keep your work area clean using wet cleaning methods or a vacuum with a high efficiency (HEPA) filter. Do not dry sweep or use compressed air to remove lead dust.
- Store your street clothes in your locker. Change out of your work clothes and shoes before going home.
- Shower and change into clean clothes and shoes before you leave your workplace or hobby area.
- If you wash your own work clothes, wash them separately from those of other family members.
- Keep your car or vehicle free of lead dust and contamination.
- Keep children out of work and hobby areas.
- If you work with lead, follow the health and safety instructions given in your workplace.
- If you are provided with a respirator, use it and clean it after use. Make sure you understand how to check to see that it fits correctly and is working properly.
- If you work with lead in your job or hobby, get a blood lead test.
How can I learn more about lead in the workplace?
Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Division (OR-OSHA) rules require that employers protect workers on the job from the hazards of lead. These requirements cover not only workers directly engaged in lead-related jobs, but also any workers allied with or supporting them (e.g., office staff) or who may be affected by the activities of the workers, such as employees working in a building being renovated.
For more information about lead in the workplace and OSHA’s lead standards and regulations contact Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Division (OR-OSHA) tollfree at (800) 922-2689 or on their website at www.orosha.org.
How can I receive more information on protecting my health while working with lead?
Download the brochure: Working with Lead: Learn how to protect your health (pdf) or call our office at 971-673-0440 for a copy of this or other educational materials.