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Thousands of workers in California have elevated blood lead levels: report

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Chart: California Department of Public Health

Oakland, CA – More than 6,000 workers in California have elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to a report from the state’s Department of Public Health.

Lead exposure can cause permanent bodily damage and has been linked to hypertension, kidney disease and cognitive dysfunction, among other health effects.

For the study, researchers used data from CDPH’s Occupational Blood Lead Registry from 2012 to 2014 to identify workers at risk. A total of 38,440 workers in the state had taken a blood lead level test during that time span, and 6,051 of those workers had elevated levels, which were defined as anything at or above 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.

Other findings from the report:

  • The majority of workers with elevated levels of lead were males between the ages of 20 and 59, and those who had a Hispanic surname.
  • The industries that had the most workers with heightened blood lead levels were manufacturing (60 percent) and construction (14 percent).
  • Some of the highest blood lead levels were found among workers who handle lead-containing bullets and firearms, such as those at shooting ranges, ammunition manufacturing sites and gun repair locations.

“Based on the findings of this report, the [Occupational Lead Poisoning Prevention Program] initiated new prevention activities to protect workers and to increase BLL testing,” the report states. “With increased BLL testing, and therefore a more complete picture of workplace lead exposure in California, OLPPP can better target prevention efforts to industries and employers that most need them.”

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