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July 29, 1997

As painting and construction season begins, remember to take precautions to prevent lead poisoning

OLYMPIA - With the summer construction season in full swing, the Department of Labor & Industries is reminding employers, workers and homeowners with projects that they need to take precautions to prevent lead poisoning from exposure to lead-based paint in older homes and businesses.

Overexposure to lead is a serious health hazard that can result in damage to the brain, nerves, kidneys, blood cells and reproductive organs. Lead enters the body either by being breathed or ingested as dust, mist or fumes in the air. Lead dust can be swallowed if it gets on hands, clothes or beards, or gets in food, drinks or cigarettes.

Although recent federal regulations require home sellers to disclose known lead presence in paint, many people do not realize that there can be lead in the paint of pre-1978 homes, according to L&I industrial hygienist Anne Foote-Soiza. Surfaces painted in the early 1960s and before typically have very high levels of lead, she added.

"So before you start a painting or remodeling job you should test the different layers of paint in several places," she said. Paint can be tested for lead by taking paint chips to environmental laboratories or by contacting an industrial hygiene or lead inspection firm - they are listed in the yellow pages of the telephone book under "environmental services."

Employers are required by state law to protect their workers from exposure to lead, including sanding, painting prep and other construction activities that might disturb lead. Assistance is available by contacting local L&I service centers. L&I service centers, located statewide, are listed in the government pages of the telephone book under Washington, state of.

Symptoms of acute lead poisoning from breathing or ingesting lead at work or home may be so mild as to be ignored or misdiagnosed. Symptoms include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Unexplained weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Unexplained irritability
  • Lack of concentration

Dr. Joel Kaufman, an associate medical director at L&I, recommends a medical evaluation for anyone who is concerned about exposure to lead.

"If you think that you may have been overexposed to lead at home or work, ask your doctor for a whole-blood lead test, making sure to tell him or her about your potential lead exposure," he said. The average level for adults is 3 micrograms per deciliter of blood. Levels of 10 micrograms indicate some exposure to lead. Children's blood lead should be kept well below 10 micrograms. Levels in adults should be kept below 25 micrograms in order to prevent health effects from occurring.

The following are some recommended safe practices for painting and remodeling activities involving lead-based paint:

  • Children should be restricted from work areas and anywhere else that dust from the project may settle until the dust is removed.
  • If paint must be disturbed for preparation work, use wet methods. Avoid dry scraping, grinding, sanding or heating the surfaces of lead-based paint.
  • Do not dry sweep or blow dust when cleaning work areas.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke in an area where lead-based paint is being disturbed.
  • Wash hands and face when leaving the work area - especially before eating, drinking or smoking.
  • Do not wear work shoes or work clothes home or outside the work area if you know lead dust may be present. Lead dust can be carried home where children and family members may be exposed.
  • Wear an appropriate respirator.
  • Seek help and advice from informed sources.

L&I provides consultations to employers for worker-protection requirements relating to lead exposure. In addition, there are a number of other resources available to homeowners and other interested parties:

Additional information may be obtained from the following web sites on the Internet:


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