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J Occup Environ Hyg. 2009 Feb;6(2):99-112. doi: 10.1080/15459620802615772.

Task-based lead exposures and work site characteristics of bridge surface preparation and painting contractors.

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Department of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts, USA.


This study of bridge painters working for small contractors in Massachusetts investigated the causes of elevated blood lead levels and assessed their exposure to lead. Bridge work sites were evaluated for a 2-week period during which personal and area air samples and information on work site characteristics and lead abatement methods were gathered. Short-duration personal inhalable samples collected from 18 tasks had geometric means (GM) of 3 microg/m(3) to 7286 microg/m(3). Full-shift, time-weighted average (TWA) inhalable samples (>or=6 hours) collected from selected workers and work sites had GMs of 2 microg/m(3) to 15,704 microg/m(3); 80% of samples exceeded the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 microg/m(3), on average by a factor of 30. Area inhalable samples collected from three locations ranged from 2 microg/m(3) to 40,866 microg/m(3) from inside the containment, 2 microg/m(3) to 471 microug/m(3) from a distance of <6 meters, and 2 microg/m(3) to 121 microg/m(3) from >6 meters from the containment. Seventy nine percent of the area samples from inside the containment exceeded the PEL on average by a factor of 140. Through observations of work site characteristics, opportunities for improving work methods were identified, particularly the institution of engineering controls (which were only occasionally present) and improvement in the design and construction of the containment structure. The high levels of airborne lead exposures indicate a potential for serious exposure hazard for workers and environmental contamination, which can be mitigated through administrative and engineering controls. Although these data were collected over 10 years ago, a 2005 regulatory review by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of its lead in construction standard reported that elevated lead exposures and blood lead levels, high occurrence of noncompliance with the lead standard, and nonimplementation of newer technology especially among small painting firms employing <10 workers are still widespread. As a result, the findings of this study are still quite germane even a decade after the introduction of the new OSHA standard.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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