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Lead Elevated in Most of Shipyard’s Workers

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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Nearly three-quarters of the workers on a ship refurbishing job in Wisconsin last year had elevated blood lead levels, according to findings released by Wisconsin and Minnesota health officials.

The re-powering of the freighter Herbert C. Jackson, at Fraser Shipyards in Superior, WI, was halted in March 2016, less than two months into the project, when inspectors from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration found evidence of lead paint in part of the ship that were being dismantled.

Herbert C. Jackson
By U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District / CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The re-powering of the freighter Herbert C. Jackson was halted in March 2016 when inspectors found evidence of lead paint. (Herbert C. Jackson pictured, not at shipyard)

The new findings, reported Monday (Jan. 16) in the Duluth News-Tribune in an article co-authored with Wisconsin Public Radio, represent the most comprehensive information to date on the health effects of the job on workers.

171 Workers' Lead Elevated

Of the 233 workers who took part in the job between January and March 2016, 171—about 73 percent—had elevated lead levels, according to officials. Of those, 35 had what the agencies called high lead levels: 40 to 60 times as much lead as would be found in an average person’s blood.

While those with lower lead levels are expected to experience no long-term effects from the exposure, high-level lead poisoning like that shown in those 35 workers, even if short-term, can lead to symptoms such as headache and fatigue, officials told WPR.

While it is presumed most of the workers with elevated lead levels experienced only short-term exposure during the Herbert C. Jackson job, it can’t be ruled out that some may have had longer-term exposure from past shipyard work.

OSHA Settlement

Earlier this month, Fraser agreed to pay $700,000 to OSHA in a settlement over the claims of lead exposure and possible exposure to other heavy metals and asbestos during the Herbert C. Jackson refurbishment. That was a reduced penalty in comparison with the original proposed fine of nearly $1.4 million. Fraser did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

Lead poisoning
By Herbert L. Fred, MD and Hendrik A. van Dijk / CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

High-level lead poisoning like that shown in 35 of the workers, even if short-term, can lead to symptoms such as headache and fatigue.

In its citation, OSHA alleged that Fraser management knew of the presence of lead and asbestos in the Herbert C. Jackson, but were on a tight deadline to refurbish the ship before summer, and cut corners to stay on time and on budget.

“We appreciate the opportunity to work with OSHA and respect their oversight as well as our joint commitment to the health and safety of all workers at Fraser,” James Farkas, president and chief operating officer of Fraser Industries, told the News-Tribune. The company declined comment on the new findings, according to WPR.

Suit Pending

In May, a worker filed suit against the shipyard, alleging exposure to lead and other toxins during work inside the 57-year-old vessel. That suit is still pending, with a trial date reportedly set in 2018.

According to the News Tribune, the Herbert C. Jackson passed its sea trials in September, about three months behind its original schedule, and has since gone back into service.


Tagged categories: Asbestos; Demolition; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Labor; Lead; North America; OSHA; Ships and vessels; Shipyards

Comment from WAN MOHAMAD NOR WAN ABDUL RAHMAN, (1/18/2017, 2:01 AM)

Greed is the root of all evils

Comment from Thomas Van Hooser, (1/19/2017, 9:08 AM)

Good info to support a conclusion that this industry does not make employee health a priority.

Comment from Car F., (1/20/2017, 11:03 AM)

The effect of lead and other hazardous chemical on humans may take a generation to show up, by then no one will remember what took place and families will be left with hefty medical bills to pay for the effect of genetic mutations caused by greedy employers: no one can tell me the system is not rigged..

Comment from M. Halliwell, (1/23/2017, 11:21 AM)

I agree 100% that much better safety compliance needs to be in place (which would be the employer and their supervisory staff)...but....I'd also say we need to be carful of what I call "safety inertia". There is the complacency of "we've always done it that way" (from workers, supervisors and employers) as well as the resistance to provide proper PPE (employers) or use it (employees) because of an attitude of "We've been doing this for years and nobody's been hurt, so why do we need this extra stuff". I'm not blaming anyone, but rather emphasizing the need for everyone involved to "get with the (safety) program."

Comment from Car F., (1/23/2017, 11:56 AM)

I agree with Mr. Halliwell, that "safety inertia" is a huge problem. I also see it as mental inertia, lack of creativity and poor imagination: “ I wait for someone to tell me what to do” instead of using initiative. No amount of regulations, codes, directives or laws will instill critical thinking in a docile and dormant population accustomed to be told and manipulated. However, critical thinking could have dangerous consequences for politicians and the plutocrats, thus, it is not desirable or encouraged in some quarters.

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