California Healthline – More than 6,000 California workers in munitions, manufacturing and other industries have elevated levels of lead in their blood that could cause serious health problems, according to a new report from the state’s public health agency.
The report, containing the results of tests conducted between 2012 and 2014, comes as the state’s workplace health and safety agency, Cal/OSHA, is considering a major update of its safety standards for workplace lead exposure for the first time in decades. The current standards are based on 35-year-old medical findings, which at the time did not recognize the dangers of even low-level exposure to lead. More recent science shows chronic, low-level lead exposure can cause lasting harm.
“It doesn’t surprise me. This is a huge problem,” said Doug Parker, executive director of Worksafe, a worker health and safety advocacy organization based in Oakland. “Clearly, there haven’t been adequate actions taken” by some employers, he said.
Lead is a naturally occurring element. The soft gray metal and its various compounds have been used in many products, including pipes, paint, batteries, ammunition, industrial equipment and gasoline. Workers can be exposed to lead in the form of dust, either inhaled or swallowed, or by handling lead-tainted items.
Most public health actions have focused on protecting children from lead exposure and quickly treating those who are exposed, since the metal can severely impair their development.
But adults also can face serious health problems from lead exposure, including heart disease, reproductive problems, cognitive difficulties and kidney failure. Some workers exposed to lead dust in the workplace have unwittingly carried it home on their clothes, exposing their families to it.
The authors of the report examined data from the California Occupational Blood Lead Registry, which tracks workplace exposures. From 2012 to 2014, 38,440 workers had their blood tested for lead, and 6,051 workers were identified with an elevated level of 5 or more micrograms of lead per deciliter (about 3.3 ounces) of blood. Most of these workers were men between the ages of 20 and 59 and had Hispanic surnames. Many lived in Southern California, particularly in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The California Department of Public Health, which released the report last month, did not make an expert available for comment.
About 14,000 of the workers had two or more blood lead tests, which showed about a fifth of them had elevated blood lead levels, according to the report. More than one elevated blood test suggests chronic exposure linked to health problems, the researchers noted.
About 60 percent of workers with higher exposures — above 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood — worked in manufacturing, for companies that make and recycle batteries, aircraft and aircraft parts, ships, plumbing and pipefitting fixtures, and metal valves, according to the report. Workers with the highest blood lead levels — 40 micrograms or more per deciliter — mostly worked at shooting ranges or in ammunition manufacturing, gun repair, and firearm instruction, although some worked in other metal industries, painting and construction.
A spokesman for the California Manufacturers and Technology Association Association said the industry group did not have a position on workplace lead exposure, and a representative for the Sacramento-based State Building and Construction Trades Council did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
California requires employers to provide testing for workers if their work uses or “disturbs” lead (such as removing lead paint from a home) and to take steps to minimize lead dust and fumes.
State researchers warned that there are many other workers who may be exposed to it but are never tested. While battery manufacturers and ammunition manufacturers may routinely test their workers, many other companies, including foundries and painting contractors, do not, the researchers noted.
“The result of this large testing deficiency is that we do not know the true numbers of California workers with elevated” blood lead levels, the researchers wrote.
State health officials Monday renewed their call urging Californians to get a flu shot, and to do it now.
Citing the confirmed death of an elderly person in San Diego from flu-related complications, California’s Public Health Director and Officer Dr. Karen Smith, said people should get vaccinated against influenza (the flu) as soon as possible because it takes a couple of weeks for the body to respond fully to the vaccine.
With flu season expected to be in full swing by late November or December, getting a flu shot now will help ensure having the best protection available as the flu season begins, according to a California Dept. of Public Health statement released Monday.
The flu causes millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and, sometimes, tens of thousands of deaths each year in the United States, emphasized state health officials, adding that everyone six months of age and older, including pregnant women, should get vaccinated.
According to the CDPH, a person with the flu may be contagious and infect others before they even feel sick.
“Deaths related to flu are tragic reminders that the flu virus needs to be taken very seriously,” said Dr. Smith. “A yearly flu shot is the best way to protect against infection and prevent others from coming down with the flu.”
Concern about the effectiveness of this year’s nasal spray vaccine has also prompted health officials to recommend people get the flu shot instead. There should be enough of the flu shot to go around and meet the expected demand, according to the CDPH, which also reminded the public that the vaccine is changed every flu season to match the current viruses circulating.
Common flu symptoms include fever or feeling feverish, a cough and/or sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, chills, fatigue and body aches. Children may also have nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
Following a few simple tips can help limit your exposure to the flu and other respiratory illnesses and keep them from spreading:
—Stay home when you are sick and limit your contact with others
—Cover your coughs or sneezes with your sleeve or a disposable tissue
—Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and;
—Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
Some local health departments may also offer low- or no-cost flu immunizations. More information about the flu is available on the CDPH website. You can find the nearest flu vaccine locations by visiting www.flu.gov.
Children who live near the former Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon have higher levels of lead in their blood than those who live farther away, according to a report released today by state health officials, who said the age of the homes the children live in was also a
The study performed by the state Department of Public Health at the request of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, found that children under age 6 who lived near the plant were likely to have more lead in their blood than children in Los Angeles County overall.
According to the study, 3.58 percent of young children who live within a mile of the plant had levels of 4.5 micrograms of lead or more per deciliter of blood. Among children who lived between one and 4.5 miles of the plant, 2.41 percent had 4.5 micrograms or more, the study found.
By comparison, only 1.95 percent of children countywide had such levels of lead in their blood in 2012, state officials said.
According to DTSC, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers 5 micrograms or greater to be an indicator of significantly high lead levels requiring public health action. California’s baseline, however, is 4.5 micrograms.
Although the study focused on proximity to the plant, researchers found that the age of housing was a contributing factor to lead levels, noting that homes closer to the facility tend to be older. The age of housing is significant, since lead levels in paint were not regulated until 1978.
According to the study, 3.11 percent of young children living near Exide in homes built before 1940 had elevated blood lead levels, while only 1.87 percent of children near the plant in homes built after 1940 had elevated levels.
The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015. When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.
As of last August, Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, had paid $9 million into a trust and another $5 million was due to be paid by March 2020, according to state officials.
Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed spending $176.6 million for further testing
and environmental cleanup of the area surrounding the plant. The state Senate approved the funding on Thursday. The issue will now go before the Assembly.
State officials said the funding would pay for testing of residential properties, schools, day care centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.