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I. Substance Identification
A. Substance: Pure lead (Pb) is a heavy metal at room temperature and pressure and is a basic chemical element. It can combine with various other substances to form numerous lead compounds.
B. Compounds Covered by the Standard: The word “lead” when used in this standard means elemental lead, all inorganic lead compounds and a class of organic lead compounds called lead soaps. This standard does not apply to other organic lead compounds.
C. Uses: Exposure to lead occurs in at least 120 different occupations, including primary and secondary lead smelting, lead storage battery manufacturing, lead pigment manufacturing and use, solder manufacturing and use, shipbuilding and ship repairing, auto manufacturing, and printing.
D. Permissible Exposure: The Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) set by the standard is 50 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air (50 µg/M3 ), averaged over an 8-hour workday.
E. Action Level: The standard establishes an action level of 30 micrograms per cubic meter of air (30 µg/M3 ), time-weighted average, based on an 8-hour workday. The action level initiates several requirements of the standard, such as exposure monitoring, medical surveillance, and training and education.
II. Health Hazard Data
A. Ways in which lead enters your body. When absorbed into your body in certain doses, lead is a toxic substance. The object of the lead standard is to prevent absorption of harmful quantities of lead. The standard is intended to protect you not only from the immediate toxic effects of lead but also from the serious toxic effects that may not become apparent until years of exposure have passed.
Lead can be absorbed into your body by inhalation (breathing) and ingestion (eating). Lead (except for certain organic lead compounds not covered by the standard, such as tetraethyl lead) is not absorbed through your skin. When lead is scattered in the air as a dust, fume or mist it can be inhaled and absorbed through your lungs and upper respiratory tract. Inhalation of airborne lead is generally the most important source of occupational lead absorption. You can also absorb lead through your digestive system if lead gets into your mouth and is swallowed. If you handle food, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or make-up which have lead on them or handle them with hands contaminated with lead, this will contribute to ingestion.
A significant portion of the lead that you inhale or ingest gets into your blood stream. Once in your blood system, lead is circulated throughout your body and stored in various organs and body tissues. Some of this lead is quickly filtered out of your body and excreted, but some remains in the blood and other tissues. As exposure to lead continues, the amount stored in your body will increase if you are absorbing more lead than your body is excreting. Even though you may not be aware of any immediate symptoms of disease, this lead stored in your tissues can be slowly causing irreversible damage, first to individual cells, then to your organs and whole body systems.
B. Effects of overexposure to lead -(1) Short-term (acute) overexposure. Lead is a potent, systemic poison that serves no known useful function once absorbed by your body. Taken in large enough doses, lead can kill you in a matter of days. A condition affecting the brain called acute encephalopathy may arise which develops quickly to seizures, coma, and death from cardiorespiratory arrest. A short-term dose of lead can lead to acute encephalopathy. Short-term occupational exposures of this magnitude are highly unusual, but not impossible. Similar forms of encephalopathy may, however, arise from extended, chronic exposure to lower doses of lead. There is no sharp dividing line between rapidly developing acute effects of lead and chronic effects which take longer to acquire. Lead adversely affects numerous body systems and causes forms of health impairment and disease which arise after periods of exposure as short as days or as long as several years.
(2) Long-term (chronic) overexposure. Chronic overexposure to lead may result in severe damage to your blood-forming, nervous, urinary and reproductive systems. Some common symptoms of chronic overexposure include loss of appetite, metallic taste in the mouth, anxiety, constipation, nausea, pallor, excessive tiredness, weakness, insomnia, headache, nervous irritability, muscle and joint pain or soreness, fine tremors, numbness, dizziness, hyperactivity and colic. In lead colic there may be severe abdominal pain.
Damage to the central nervous system in general and the brain (encephalopathy) in particular is one of the most severe forms of lead poisoning. The most severe, often fatal, form of encephalopathy may be preceded by vomiting, a feeling of dullness progressing to drowsiness and stupor, poor memory, restlessness, irritability, tremor, and convulsions. It may arise suddenly with the onset of seizures, followed by coma, and death. There is a tendency for muscular weakness to develop at the same time. This weakness may progress to paralysis often observed as a characteristic “wrist drop” or “foot drop” and is a manifestation of a disease to the nervous system called peripheral neuropathy.
Chronic overexposure to lead also results in kidney disease with few, if any, symptoms appearing until extensive and most likely permanent kidney damage has occurred. Routine laboratory tests reveal the presence of this kidney disease only after about two-thirds of kidney function is lost. When overt symptoms of urinary dysfunction arise, it is often too late to correct or prevent worsening conditions, and progression to kidney dialysis or death is possible.
Chronic overexposure to lead impairs the reproductive systems of both men and women. Overexposure to lead may result in decreased sex drive, impotence and sterility in men. Lead can alter the structure of sperm cells raising the risk of birth defects. There is evidence of miscarriage and stillbirth in women whose husbands were exposed to lead or who were exposed to lead themselves. Lead exposure also may result in decreased fertility and abnormal menstrual cycles in women. The course of pregnancy may be adversely affected by exposure to lead since lead crosses the placental barrier and poses risks to developing fetuses. Children born of parents either one of whom were exposed to excess lead levels are more likely to have birth defects, mental retardation, or behavioral disorders or to die during the first year of childhood.
Overexposure to lead also disrupts the blood-forming system resulting in decreased hemoglobin (the substance in the blood that carries oxygen to the cells) and ultimately anemia. Anemia is characterized by weakness, pallor and fatigue as a result of decreased oxygen-carrying capacity in the blood.
(3) Health protection goals of the standard. Prevention of adverse health effects for most workers from exposure to lead throughout a working lifetime requires that worker blood lead levels (PbB) be maintained at or below forty micrograms per one hundred grams of whole blood (40µg/100g). The blood lead levels of workers (both male and female workers) who intend to have children should be maintained below 30 µg/100g to minimize adverse reproductive health effects to the parents and the developing fetus.
The measurement of your blood lead level is the most useful indicator of the amount of lead being absorbed by your body. Blood lead levels (PbB) are most often reported in units of milligrams (mg) or micrograms (µg) of lead (1 mg = 1000 µg) per 100 grams (100g), 100 milliliters (100 ml) or deciliter (dl) of blood. These three units are essentially the same. Sometime PbB's are expressed in the form of mg% or µg%. This is a shorthand notation for 100g, 100ml, or dl.
PbB measurements show the amount of lead circulating in your blood stream but do not give any information about the amount of lead stored in your various tissues. PbB measurements merely show current absorption of lead, not the effect that lead is having on your body or the effects that past lead exposure may have already caused. Past research into lead-related diseases, however, has focused heavily on associations between PbBs and various diseases. As a result, the relative level of your PbB is an important indicator of the probability of your acquiring a lead-related health impairment or disease.
Once your blood lead level climbs above 40 µg/100g, your risk of disease increases. There is a wide variability of individual response to lead, thus it is difficult to say that a particular PbB in a given person will cause a particular effect. Studies have associated fatal encephalopathy with PbBs as low as 150 µg/100g. Other studies have shown other forms of disease in some workers with PbBs well below 80 µg/100g. Your PbB is a crucial indicator of the risks to your health, but one other factor is also extremely important. This factor is the length of time you have had elevated PbBs. The longer you have an elevated PbB, the greater the risk that large quantities of lead are being gradually stored in your organs and tissues (body burden). The greater your overall body burden, the greater the chances of substantial permanent damage.
The best way to prevent all forms of lead-related impairments and diseases (both short term and long term) is to maintain your PbB below 40 µg/100g. The provisions of the standard are designed with this end in mind. Your employer has prime responsibility to assure that the provisions of the standard are complied with both by the company and by individual workers. You as a worker, however, also have a responsibility to assist your employer in complying with the standard. You can play a key role in protecting your own health by learning about the lead hazards and their control, learning what the standard requires, following the standard where it governs your own actions, and seeing that your employer complies with provisions governing his actions.
(4) Reporting signs and symptoms of health problems. You should immediately notify your employer if you develop signs or symptoms associated with lead poisoning or if you desire medical advice concerning the effects of current or past exposure to lead on your ability to have a healthy child. You should also notify your employer if you have difficulty breathing during a respirator fit test or while wearing a respirator. In each of these cases your employer must make available to you appropriate medical examinations or consultations. These must be provided at no cost to you and at a reasonable time and place.
The standard contains a procedure whereby you can obtain a second opinion by a physician of your choice if the employer selected the initial physician.
Authority cited: Section 142.3, Labor Code. Reference: Section 142.3, Labor Code.
1. Change without regulatory effect renumbering section 5216 and appendices A-D to section 5198 filed 2-16-2000 pursuant to section 100, title 1, California Code of Regulations (Register 2000, No. 7). For prior history, see Register 87, No. 51.
2. Change without regulatory effect amending subsection (j)(3)(A) filed 6-26-2000 pursuant to section 100, title 1, California Code of Regulations (Register 2000, No. 26).
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