REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND THE WORKPLACE

Lead and other heavy metals

Working with lead or other heavy metals could increase your chances of having a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or a child with a birth defect. These metals can also affect a baby’s brain development. Here, you can learn more about lead and other heavy metals and what you can do to reduce your exposure for a healthier pregnancy.

What are heavy metals?

Some examples of heavy metals are:

  • Lead
  • Cadmium
  • Cobalt
  • Mercury

Why should I be concerned about exposure?

  • Adults and children can become very sick when they have a lot of heavy metals in their body.
  • If you have heavy metals in your body, the metals can enter your breast milk. When your baby drinks your breast milk, the heavy metals will enter your baby’s body.

Who is exposed to lead and other heavy metals?

Exposure is most common in people who work in:

  • Construction or home renovation workers
  • Miners
  • Firing range employees or those who do target shooting, such as law enforcement officers
  • Smelters
  • Stained glass makers
  • Battery or electronics recycling workers
  • Welders
  • Artists

What is not known?

  • We don’t know what causes most pregnancy problems or brain development problems. If you are exposed to heavy metals and you have a problem with your pregnancy, we often can’t tell if it was caused by the heavy metals or by something else.
  • We don’t know what levels of most heavy metals are safe. Try to reduce or eliminate your exposure as much as possible.

What can I do to reduce or eliminate my exposure?

  • At work, metals can get into your body by breathing in dust or fumes or by swallowing them (if you touch the metals and don’t wash your hands before eating). Wash your hands before leaving work, and before eating or smoking
  • Avoid bringing the heavy metals into your car or house by changing your clothes and shoes before entering your house. Learn more about take-home exposure.
  • Wear personal protective equipment like gloves, protective clothing, or a respirator. Respirators are sometimes worn to reduce the amount of certain chemicals that workers breathe in. To be effective, respirators must be used correctly. If you are pregnant and using a respirator, learn more about respirators and pregnancy. Talk to your doctor and your employer about what types of personal protective equipment you need for your job.
  • If you work with lead and are pregnant or breastfeeding, ask your doctor if you should get your blood lead levels tested.

Where can I get more information?

Page last reviewed: April 20, 2017