Workers Allege Lead Exposure at VA Shipyard


Alleged lead contamination in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard has resulted in an investigation after complaints the shipyard failed to inform onsite workers of airborne lead risks.

Concerns over the lead exposure, which center around the shipyard's Weld School, in Portsmouth, Virginia, went unaddressed until a school instructor intervened.

Lead Exposure

According to local news station WAVY-TV, lead was found in paint in Building 234 at the shipyard’s Weld School. Instructor Walter Osbon, who has taught at the school for 30 years, told the news station that the shipyard “knew it contained lead.”

The Navy’s response to an OSHA complaint acknowledged that “hazardous working conditions resulted in potential over-exposure to airborne lead for multiple personnel.” The shipyard went on to confirm on June 29 that paint samples were taken for lead content testing, and some of these came from the ceilings of welding booths.

The presence of lead in the paint was reportedly 3.838 percent by weight. OSHA's limit is .005 percent.

The shipyard also noted that not all impacted personnel were informed of the situation, nor were they briefed on the result of the paint sample analysis.

AJ Demong, a welder at the shipyard, showed a 99 mcg/dL for Protoporphyrin Zinc (PPZ), a biproduct of lead exposure, during his annual physical. The acceptable range is 0-49.

"For two months, I had my children tested. I had my girlfriend tested,” Demong told WAVY-TV.

Sick Students

In mid-August, four welding students became nauseous from cutting processes that burned paint. (Standard practice calls for the paint to be removed first.)

After confronting the weld school director, Osbon learned that the paint contained lead, and the instructor went on to notify the relevant parties. From there, renovations on the weld school stopped.

While a sign now hangs, warning “toxic metal work area-for authorized personnel only," with the lead box checked off, the shipyard has shut down the area until the end of the year for cleanup.

Since the investigation began, two major changes have occurred:

  • The weld school director has been re-assigned, pending the findings of the shipyard’s own investigation.
  • Lines of communication between workers and the shipyard commander have improved significantly, according to reports.

In a release to the news station, the shipyard noted that both welder and non-welder employees are being provided additional testing, noting that test results for 49 employees indicated zero cases of elevated blood lead levels.

The Norfolk Naval Shipyard is one of the largest shipyards in the world, in addition to being the oldest and largest U.S. Navy industrial facility. 


Tagged categories: Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; OSHA; Shipyards; U.S. Navy

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