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Arch Environ Health. 1989 May-Jun;44(3):140-5.

Acute lead poisoning in construction workers: the failure of current protective standards.

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Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Division of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, New York, New York.


Construction workers who use oxyacetylene torches to cut lead-painted metal are at high risk of acute and subacute lead poisoning. Poisoning results from inhalation of submicron-diameter particles of lead fume generated in paint burning. We describe a series of 14 cases of lead poisoning in ironworkers cutting a lead-painted bridge in New York City. Peak blood lead levels ranged from 2.32 to 5.80 mumol/l (48-120 micrograms/dl). Median duration of employment was 4 wk. Two workers required chelation therapy. Personal (breathing zone) exposures to airborne lead ranged from 600 to 4,000 micrograms/m3. Construction workers are specifically exempted from the provisions of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lead standard. The data from this study indicate that such exemption is not warranted. A need exists for improved protection of construction workers against occupational exposure to lead.

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