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Children playing When parents are exposed to toxics at work, their children may get those toxics too. This week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports[1] highlights take-home lead poisoning that six Maine children picked up from family members with workplace lead exposure, such as painting and paint removal or metals recycling. None had lead-related occupational safety monitoring at their work sites.

The six children were part of a 2008 study of small children under six years of age. Most elevated blood lead levels were due to lead hazards at home, such as in the water or paint. However, 6 children had been exposed to lead dust in family vehicles.  Lead dust was found in vehicle seats, floors, and on the children’s safety seats, at levels much higher than those acceptable in a home.  Similar problems could exist with other workplace toxics.

Elevated blood lead levels can have serious, lifelong results on children’s intelligence, and  has also been linked to violent crime.  The six Maine children had blood lead levels ranging from 15 – 32 mcg/dL.

And what of Canada?  Health Canada notes that blood lead levels in Canadian children are generally less than 10 mcg/dL but suggests routine blood testing in communities with known sources of lead – e.g., soil contamination from a smelter.[2] Most Canadian industries that handle lead have excellent employee health programs, but home renovators and others with casual lead exposure may not be as knowledgeable.

Recommendations to minimize  take-home exposure to lead (or other toxics) include:

  • · use personal protective equipment (respirators, clothing, shoes, gloves)
  • · place lead-contaminated clothing, including footwear, in a closed container for laundering – wash work clothing separately from all other clothing;
  • · shower, washing hands, face and hair, when exposed to lead above permissible exposure limits;
  • · change into street clothes and shoes after work;
  • · thoroughly vacuum and wet clean vehicle interiors;
  • · replace child safety seats that had been contaminated with lead dust;
  • · implement lead-safe work practices
  • · test workers and families regularly for elevated blood lead levels.

At home, it’s important  to remove lead contamination from water pipes, and to be alert to lead paint in older houses. This is especially important on doors and windows that are repeatedly opened and closed, or where paint is otherwise being worn away.


[1] Childhood Lead Poisoning Associated with Lead Dust Contamination of Family Vehicles and Child Safety Seats — Maine, 2008.  MMWR August 21, 2009 / 58(32);890-893. At http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5832a2.htm

[2] Health Canada. Lead Information Package – Some Commonly Asked Questions About Lead and Human Health. Last modified April 23 2009. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/contaminants/lead-plomb/exposure-exposition-eng.php#a51 .  See also Health Canada’s Environmental and Workplace Health: Lead (last updated March 19 2009) at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/water-eau/lead-plomb/i-eng.php

By Dianne Saxe and Jackie Campbell


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