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Publication of NIOSH Alert: Request for Assistance in Preventing Lead Poisoning in Construction Workers

CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) periodically issues alerts about workplace hazards that have caused death or serious injury or illness to workers. One such alert, Request for Assistance in Preventing Lead Poisoning in Construction Workers (1), was recently released and is now available to the public. * This alert presents new evidence associating lead poisoning with abrasive blasting, sanding, cutting, burning, or welding of bridges and other steel structures coated with lead-containing paints.

The alert describes cases of lead poisoning (defined by NIOSH as a concentration of lead in whole blood exceeding 50 ug/dL) in 42 construction workers at bridges in eight different sites. At least 26 (62%) of the 42 cases occurred among workers employed at a site using a containment structure. The actual number of cases of occupational lead poisoning nationwide is higher than 42 but cannot be accurately determined because employers are not required to routinely measure lead concentration in the blood of exposed construction workers. One of the national health objectives for the year 2000 is to eliminate occupational lead exposures that result in blood lead concentrations greater than 25 ug/dL of whole blood (objective 10.8) (2).

For the construction industry, NIOSH and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommend that exposure to lead dust and fumes be minimized by using engineering controls and work practices, and that personal protective equipment (PPE)--including respirators--be used for additional protection (3). Airborne lead concentrations and blood lead concentrations should be monitored to determine the effectiveness of controls and PPE. All new contracts of federal, state, and local departments of transportation should include specifications for a mandatory program of worker protection from lead poisoning during the maintenance, repainting, or demolition of bridges and other steel structures.


  1. NIOSH. NIOSH alert: request for assistance in preventing lead poisoning in construction workers. Cincinnati: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, 1991; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)91-116.

  2. Public Health Service. Healthy people 2000: national health promotion and disease prevention objectives -- full report, with commentary. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1991; DHHS publication no. (PHS)91-50212.

  3. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, NIOSH. Working with lead in the construction industry. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor; US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, 1991.

    • Single copies of this document are available without charge from the Information Dissemination Section, Division of Standards Development and Technology Transfer, NIOSH, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45226; telephone (513) 533-8287.

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