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Environ Res. 1992 Oct;59(1):265-70.

Blood lead levels in incinerator workers.

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  • 1School of Public Health, Division of Environmental Sciences, Columbia University, New York, New York 10032.


Questions have been raised concerning the safety of mass burn incineration and its role in solid waste management. In 1989, the New York City Office of Occupational Safety and Health examined air levels of metals in New York City incinerators and found that workers were exposed to air lead levels as high as 2500 micrograms/m3 while cleaning the electrostatic precipitators in the plant. In order to determine the biologic significance of these exposures to the workers, blood samples were taken from 56 incinerator workers and 25 controls and analyzed for lead and erythrocyte protoporphyrin levels. Incinerator workers were found to have a mean blood lead of 11.0 micrograms/dl as compared to the control group level of 7.4 micrograms/dl. Risk factors for increased blood lead levels were analyzed using multiple regression analyses. Wearing a personal protective device "always" or not and the interaction of smoking and cleaning the precipitator more than seven times in the past year were found to be significant predictors for blood lead. These results indicate that lead in municipal incinerator ash from electrostatic precipitators is bioavailable and that the effects of such exposure can be minimized by wearing personal protective devices, not smoking, and rotating the work force to minimize precipitator ash contact.

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