Federal health officials have found a disturbing new source of lead poisoning in children—“take-home lead” dust carried by adults who work in painting, paint removal and other lead-related occupations.
Of 55 new cases of elevated Blood Lead Levels (BLL) detected in Maine children under 6 in 2008, six cases were traced directly to lead dust in family vehicles and in child safety seats, according to a report Aug. 21 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
“The sources of the lead dust were likely household contacts who worked in high-risk lead exposure occupations,” the report said. No lead was found in the homes of the six children, who come from five families.
These are the first reported cases of lead poi¬soning caused by elevated lead dust associated with child safety seats, MMWR said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets acceptable lead dust standards for floors inside homes, but no lead standards have been set for vehicles or child safety seats.
The cases were identified through CDC-mandated blood lead testing. The children, who ranged in age from 28 months to four years, had median BLL well above the level that automatically triggers an environmental investigation to determine the source of the lead.
The five families included four adults who worked in painting or paint removal and one self-employed metals recycler, CDC said. “The workers reported no lead-related occupational safety measures provided by their employers at work sites.”
Two parents were no longer working as painters and had no current lead exposure, “yet lead dust remained in their vehicles and on child safety seats,” the report noted.
Five family vehicles and all of the child safety seats tested positive for lead dust. Safety seats stored in the vehicles had higher median lead dust levels than car seats that were removed and kept in the home when not in use.
The children included:
• A 13-month-old girl and 3-year-old sibling whose father’s previous occupation involved sanding and grinding paint from pre-1950s residential buildings. “According to the father, the employer only required workers to wear dust masks and therefore did not adhere to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s lead-removal safety standards,” the report said.
• An 18-month-old boy whose father worked for the same contractor as in Case 1.
• A 28-month-old girl whose father worked in paint removal.
• A 12-month-old boy whose mother’s boyfriend worked for the same paint contractor as that in Cases 1 and 2.
“These reports highlight the need to consider expanding lead dust testing to include vehicles and child safety seats when occupational exposure is suspected, and to reinforce lead safety work practices,” the report said.
It also noted that, during 2003-04, “95 percent of reported elevated BLL in adults were related to occupational exposures, par¬ticularly in the industry subsector of painting, which had the highest numbers of lead-exposed workers.”
It added: “Persons exposed to lead at work can transport lead dust home, inadvertently posing an exposure risk to household contacts, especially chil¬dren who are most susceptible to poisoning.”
The children in the study did not yet display signs of lead toxicity. The report warned that they “might not have been tested had they not been on Medicaid.”
Federal health officials advise workers who are exposed to lead at work to, upon finishing the workday:
• Place lead-contaminated clothes, including shoes and personal protective equipment, in a closed container for laundering or cleaning.
• Shower and wash hands, face and hair when exposed above the permissible exposure limits.
• Change into street clothes.
• Wash work clothes separately from all other clothes.
In the Maine cases, however, “parents and household contacts reported a lack of facilities available for washing, showering, and changing clothes before entering their personal vehicles,” CDC said.
For the full report, visit http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/ and click on “Download Issue.”