NIOSH Identifies Take-home Lead Exposure as Concern in E-scrap Recycling

The recycling of used electronics (e-scrap) is an emerging area of concern as a source of both occupational exposures to workers and take-home exposures, according to a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) investigation recently described in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The investigation concerned a case of childhood lead poisoning in Ohio that resulted from parental take-home exposures.

According to the report, in 2010, two young children of a father who worked in an e-scrap recycling facility crushing cathode ray tubes were found to have elevated blood-lead levels (BLLs) of 14 and 18 µg/dL. The CDC threshold for lead poisoning in children is 5 µg/dL. The father reported that he did not wear personal protective equipment at work and that he played with his children when he came home. The lead risk assessment of the family’s home found detectable lead dust on the floor, and the family reported that the father frequently had visible dust in his hair, which the children often touched. The father left his job soon after, and the children’s BLLs decreased to 7.9 and 8.7 µg/dL over the following three months.

NIOSH performed an unrelated health hazard evaluation (HHE) of the same facility in 2012 as part of an initiative to learn more about occupational exposures in e-scrap recycling. During the HHE, NIOSH researchers tested for lead through air and surface sampling, and found that employees at the facility were overexposed to lead. According to the report, eight of 12 employees’ hands tested positive for lead even after handwashing with soap and water, and 12 of 13 uniforms tested positive for lead. Based on its findings, NIOSH recommended that the employer help prevent take-home exposures by reducing lead exposure in the workplace; having employees change clothes and shoes before going home and leaving soiled clothing at work for laundering; storing street clothes in separate areas of the workplace to prevent contamination; and prohibiting removal of toxic substances or contaminated items from the workplace.

“Preventing take-home exposure is key because decontaminating homes and vehicles is not always effective in the long term,” NIOSH said in an update last week. “Normal house cleaning and laundry methods are not enough to reduce the hazard, and decontamination activities can potentially lead to hazardous exposures.”