We know that lead exposure can be harmful to our health, which leads us to ponder how it (along with other materials known to be hazardous, such as mercury and asbestos), could ever have been so widely used. The short answer is that its usefulness outweighed any known harmful effects then known. Today, we know that lead exposure can damage organs and the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. It also can be harmful in children’s development.

Most commonly, lead is inhaled as a dust or fume or is ingested accidentally. Because it can circulate throughout the body and be deposited in organs and bodily tissues, lead is considered a cumulative and persistent toxic substance.

When we think of lead exposure in everyday items, we often think of lead-based paint. Prior to the 1960s – and even up until the late 1970s – paint used in homes was most often lead based. Traditionally, lead oxide was used as a pigment. And because of their anti-bacterial and anti-mold properties, organic compounds, such as lead naphthenate, were used in house paints in small concentrations. The EPA established lead-based paint regulations in the 1990s after it was found that millions of children in the United States had been exposed to lead poisoning from paint peeling from walls.

Lead chromate continues to be used in applications such as primers for steel bridges and in the shipbuilding industry due to its anti-corrosion properties. Similarly, lead is still used in yellow highway paints in part for its resistance to the elements.

Whether at home or in the workplace, remodeling or renovation projects such as sanding, cutting with saws or torches, and demolition work can yield hazardous lead chips and dust by disturbing lead-based paint, resulting in an unhealthy environment. OSHA’s Lead Standard for the construction industry, Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1926.62, addresses lead in a various forms, including metallic lead, all inorganic lead compounds, and organic lead soaps. Workplace Safety & Health Co. Inc. can provide industry-standard testing for lead-based paint according to OSHA standards. Our industrial hygienists cover a wide breadth of workplace environmental concerns, from noise to air quality, from chemical exposure to asbestos and lead paint identification. We can identify and evaluate hazards, and develop corrective action plans to solve your industrial hygiene problems efficiently and economically.

Currently, there are two methods recognized by the EPA for testing paint: X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analysis and paint chip sampling with an analysis by an accredited laboratory. At Workplace Safety & Health, we go a step further by using AutoCAD drawings and photographs to show the location and appearance of each surface coating we analyze.

So, before beginning that next renovation or construction project that you suspect might result in lead exposure, give us a call first and know what you’re dealing with.