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How Washington State ABLES Protects Workers and Families

How the Washington State ABLES program is helping protect workers

Established in 1993, the Washington State Occupational Lead Exposure Registry, now referred to as the Washington State Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance (ABLES) program, continues to work toward reducing and preventing elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) among workers. Elevated BLLs (greater than or equal to 25 µg/dl) have been associated with psychological and nerve function abnormalities, damage to the kidneys and blood-forming systems, and adverse reproductive health effects for men and women. A national goal has been set for the year 2010 to eliminate BLLs of 25 µg/dl or greater in working adults.

Washington State ABLES receives the results of all BLL tests reported to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH). Between January 1 and December 31, 2009, ABLES received a total of 9935 BLL reports (Table 1). Approximately 1.4% of these reports were for individuals with elevated BLLs which included 23 reports for individuals who had BLLs greater than or equal to 40 µg/dl. For cases where a home address could be obtained, the largest number of elevated blood lead reports was for King County residents (43%), followed by residents of Pierce (15%) and Snohomish Counties (11%).

Table 1: Adult blood lead levels from 2009 reports
Blood lead level (µg/dl) n (%)
<25 9798 (98.6%).
25‑39 114 (1.1%).
40‑49 15 (0.2%).
50‑59 3 (0.03%).
>59 5 (0.1%).
Total 9935.

ABLES collects employer and occupation information for workers with elevated BLLs to determine which industries and specific types of jobs are at risk for lead exposure. In addition, ABLES uses data from interviews with employees and employers to better characterize how workers are exposed to lead in these industries. Industries in which 3 or more elevated BLL reports were received in 2009 are shown in Table 2 by the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) code.


Table 2: Number of reports in 2009 among industries with >3 elevated BLLs
NAICS Code* NIACS description.
Job tasks of employees.
Reports
25‑39
µg/dl
Reports
>39
µg/dl
335911 Storage battery manufacturing.
Make lead-containing batteries.
28 5.
811118 Other automotive mechanical and electrical repair and maintenance.
Repairing copper-brass radiators.
15 4.
926120 Regulation and administration of transportation programs.
Abrasive blasting and thermal cutting of lead-containing paint on highway and bridge structures.
10 3.
238320 Paint and wall covering contractors.
Abrasive blasting and thermal cutting of lead-containing paint coated bridges and metal structures.
10 1.
713990 All other amusement and recreation industries.
Working at indoor shooting ranges.
5 3.
811490 Other personal and household goods repair and maintenance.
Repairing yachts and ships.
7 1.
451110 Sporting goods stores.
Working at indoor shooting ranges.
5 0.
238140 Masonry contractors.
Abrasive blasting and thermal cutting of lead-containing paint coated bridges and metal structures.
5 0.
*Figures are reported by 6-digit NAICS code.

In 2009, ABLES sent lead exposure education and prevention materials to 44% of new cases (cases are not required to provide addresses) with elevated BLLs between 25‑39 µg/dl and conducted phone interviews with 16% of these workers. ABLES also sent education and prevention materials to 100% of new cases with elevated BLLs greater than or equal to 40 g/dl and conducted phone interviews with 57% of these workers.

The ABLES program also consults with employers to help control and prevent future lead exposures in workplaces. Recently, the ABLES program has worked with employers to reduce lead exposures in surface refinishing, ship repair, and indoor firing ranges. The ABLES program provides advice to employers on effectively identifying and preparing for lead safe work, reducing the amount of lead generated at the source, and controlling indoor lead dust with ventilation systems.

How the Washington State ABLES program is helping protect families

In 2009, the Washington State ABLES program began a new project with the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program (CLPPP). The objective of this important collaboration is to encourage workers to practice lead-safe behaviors and reduce take-home lead exposures that can harm children and their families. First, ABLES uses a short survey administered at the time of blood draw to identify potential cases with children in the home. ABLES staff also interviews elevated blood lead cases and works with them to lower BLLs. During the interview, ABLES inquires whether elevated blood lead cases have children living in their home. If children are in the home, ABLES shares these data with the DOH who then sends letters to families with information about occupational take-home lead exposure and encourages them to have their children's blood tested for lead. Since January 2009, letters were sent to 23 people who reported having children in the home. Recipients included 15 people with BLLs between 10‑24 µg/dl and 8 people with BLLs greater than 24 µg/dl.

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